Toledo Zoo's Bubbles dies at 58, animal was 2nd-oldest hippo in North America

Bubbles delighted zoo visitors since 1955. The birth of her calf was the first hippo birth to be filmed. She was euthanized Tuesday.
Bubbles delighted zoo visitors since 1955. The birth of her calf was the first hippo birth to be filmed. She was euthanized Tuesday.

It was only 26 years ago that a Nile hippopotamus named Bubbles gained recognition for having the birth of her calf, Puddles, filmed underwater by researchers.

While it was the first time a hippo birth was caught on camera, the event also was witnessed by visitors, who were able to observe the action in The Toledo Zoo’s 360,000-gallon Hippoquarium.

That notoriety was just one of the many aspects that made 58-year-old Bubbles, who was euthanized Tuesday, unique.

The zoo’s executive director, Jeff Sailer, said the hippo was not doing well Tuesday, which prompted the euthanasia.

“It was more just degeneration over time. She was having some issues ... and we decided to euthanize her because she was so old,” he said.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums said a hippo’s average life expectancy is 36 years, meaning Bubbles exceeded the mean age by about 22 years. The oldest hippo in North America, named Blackie, resides at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and is also 58, but just one month older than Bubbles.

The Nile hippopotamus can be found in the wild in West, Central, East, and South Africa. It lives on a diet of assorted grasses and can be up to 5½ feet tall and 8 feet to 11 feet long. The average Nile hippo weighs between 3,000 and 9,000 pounds, according to the Toledo Zoo’s Web site.

Mr. Sailer said Bubbles was moved to the Hippoquarium in 1986. Before that, her exhibit space was in the elephant house, now known as the African Lodge.

The effect she had on visitors was widespread.

“We know in her 57 years that she was at Toledo that she was seen by over 20 million people,” he said.

Born at The Philadelphia Zoo in October, 1954, Bubbles was moved to The Toledo Zoo in September, 1955.

Two other hippos reside at the zoo: Herbie was born in August, 2000, and Emma is about 18 years old.

Bubbles was estimated to be the oldest female Nile hippopotamus in zoos that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Bubbles raised 11 calves.

“Obviously the staff was very attached to her, because she’d been here for so long. She’d been here at the zoo longer than any person who’s currently worked here,” he said.

He said patrons can leave messages of condolence on the zoo’s Facebook page. He said he was unsure whether a memorial service or event would be held to commemorate the animal.

The zoo has no immediate plans to replace the hippo.

Contact Kelly McLendon at: or 419-724-6522, or on Twitter @KMcBlade.