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“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…”

New York, N.Y., and Boston, Mass. – Veterinarians, wildlife and customs officials, and zoo staff were on hand early Friday morning to greet Inocencio (Ino-sen-si-o), a young pygmy hippo, when his plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York early Friday morning. The animal was imported from the Parque Zoologico Buin Zoo in Chile where he was born. While field research is underway (supported by both USFWS and Zoo New England), an accurate count on pygmy hippo numbers in the wild is not currently known.

Inocencio is now safely settled at his new home at Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, Mass. In the interest of conserving the species, the hope is that he’ll breed with a female pygmy hippo, Cleopatra, already residing in the zoo’s tropical forest exhibit. Zoos and wildlife agencies participate in international species survival plans, which include breeding programs designed to maintain genetic diversity and overall health of threatened and endangered animals held in captivity. The North American captive pygmy hippo population is small — with only about 61 individuals — and highly skewed toward females, so Incencio is crucial to the effort to create a self-sustaining population.

When Inocencio arrived at JFK, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Specialists along with veterinary and wildlife inspectors were there to examine him to make sure he was in good health, and to make sure that his importation paperwork was in order. Animals are imported in compliance with several laws and regulations regarding humane care, international transportation, and wildlife protection.

Inocencio arrived safely at the Franklin Park Zoo on Friday afternoon, just in time for Christmas and his second birthday on December 28.

For more on how wildlife is cleared for entry into the U.S.:

• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Terri Edwards, 413-244-4235 (Twitter - @usfwsnortheast)  

• U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Anthony Bucci, 646-733-3275 (Twitter - @CBPNewYorkCity)

• USDA APHIS, Carol Bannerman, 301-851-4093


Inocencio currently weighs in at 293 pounds. Full grown, he could weigh as much as 600 pounds. The pygmy hippo will spend a minimum of one month in quarantine at the Franklin Park Zoo before being introduced to the public and Cleopatra. Of note, Cleopatra came to the Franklin Park Zoo as result of another international collaboration. In her case, she came to Boston from the Toronto Zoo. This pairing is the result of a recommendation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Pygmy Hippo Species Survival Plan (SSP) and clearly demonstrates the broad ranging support for securing a future for wildlife. SSPs are designed to maintain genetically diverse and demographically stable captive populations of species.

The pygmy hippopotamus is native to certain rainforest areas of West Africa. Habitat loss and poaching are the biggest threats to this endangered species. Pygmy hippos are generally solitary creatures that are mainly active at night.

Wildlife inspectors for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service met the pygmy hippo when it arrived at JFK on Friday. The inspectors make sure wildlife is being imported according to international laws and regulations, and that the animals are treated humanely. The Port of New York is the largest and busiest designated port in the nation. Annually, more than 143,000 international flights carrying 22.4 million passengers are processed in JFK and more than 1.9 million tons of air cargo and air mail transit through the port.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is involved in international wildlife conservation efforts. The agency in the past has provided grant funding and scientific support for work to conserve the pygmy hippo in Sierra Leone and Liberia. A project with the Zoological Society of London strengthened governmental involvement and on the ground work to conserve, study and monitor the species.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection in advance of the shipment’s arrival first verified the live animal shipment was manifested on the arriving aircraft. CBP then received and processed the time sensitive entry to allow entry in to U.S. commerce and to ensure import regulatory requirements for participating government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)/Animal Care division were being addressed.

Simultaneously, CBP officers and agriculture specialists were dispatched to the arriving aircraft to oversee the offloading and transport of the pygmy hippo from the aircraft operating area. CBP officers and agriculture specialists then joined personnel from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA, APHIS/Animal Care to perform a cursory visual examination of the arriving hippo, while still remaining crated. The examination was conducted to ensure the general health and condition of the animal, to confirm the species, to identify the presence of any possible feed items (hay or straw) provided to the animal during transport that could pose a potential plant or animal health risk to the U.S., and to ensure that the integrity of the crating was not compromised during transport to the U.S. The examination was negative for all concerns.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will facilitate about $2 trillion in legitimate trade this year while enforcing U.S. trade laws that protect the economy, the health and the safety of the American people. This is accomplished through close partnerships with the trade community, other government agencies and foreign governments.

Representatives from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) were at JFK and Franklin Park Zoo to inspect the hippo. APHIS monitors the health of animals at U.S. ports of entry and issued the necessary import permits to allow Inocencio to enter the United States. Importing different species of live animals involves regulations, permits and certifications, processes facilitated by APHIS. In addition, APHIS regulates the transportation of certain animals, both to protect American agriculture and natural resources, as well as to ensure animal welfare under the Animal Welfare Act.


Zoo New England manages Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham. Both are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Zoo New England's mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain the natural world for future generations by creating fun and engaging experiences that integrate wildlife and conservation programs, research, and education.