Franklin Park Zoo welcomes
Pygmy Hippo, Inocencio!

Veterinarians, wildlife and customs officials, and zoo staff were on hand 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 on December 20, 2013. He then traveled with zoo staff to his new home at Franklin Park Zoo, arriving just in time for Christmas and his second birthday on December 28.

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.


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. 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 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.

Pygmy Hippopotamus Background

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.

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.

Coming to the United States

Animals are imported in compliance with several laws and regulations regarding humane care, international transportation and wildlife protection. Great care is taken in ensuring animals arrive in good health and with proper importation paperwork.

hippo arrivalWhen Inocencio arrived at JFK, wildlife inspectors for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made sure the hippo was being imported according to international laws and regulations, and that he was 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.

hippo inspectionU.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.

hippo on the goSimultaneously, 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, health and safety of the American people. This is accomplished through close partnerships with the trade community, other government agencies and foreign governments.

hippo inspectionRepresentatives 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.

Pictured above:

Photo 1: Pygmy Hippo, Inocencio
Photos 2 & 3: USFWS inspector examines hippo upon arrival at JFK airport
Photo 4: Hippo arrives at Franklin Park Zoo's hospital
Photo 5: Upon arrival at Franklin Park Zoo, hippo is inspected by APHIS and zoo veterinary staff