CEDAR CREEK, Texas (KXAN) - Even at 300 pounds, "Tank" the hippo is still considered a baby -- only one-tenth the size he will be in several years.
And the Capital of Texas Zoo has welcomed the newest addition to their family with wide, open arms.
"I don't know anywhere in Central Texas where you can go to see a hippo unless you go to one of the bigger zoos. This is special for us," said Zookeeper Kathy Seibel. "We all know what a hippo is, but to see one -- to actually see one -- is a different experience."
The 1-year-old's arrival 1 1/2 months ago has allowed zookeepers Felipe Ortiz and Seibel the chance to enjoy the large bundle of joy, who made his way to Central Texas from a Florida zoo. That's where both of his parents stayed.
"He's just like a puppy. He follows the director around," said Seibel. "He's very good, very mild, very calm."
Tank enjoys his lounging wades in a massive pool made just for him by Ortiz and the help of his brother.
"He floats, so he looks very funny when we floats on his side sometimes," said Seibel.
During Wednesday's visit from KXAN News crews, not even an apple or pig pellets could entice Tank to get out into the drying sun to show off his burly body to cameras.
Perhaps a cantaloupe would've done the trick, as zookeepers said Tank notably favors the sweet, summer treat. Though, he'll always settle for the full five-pound bucket of goodies that include cabbage, apples and even hay -- the part of the hippo's food pyramid that parallels what broccoli is for many humans.
And when it comes to watermelon, that's always a go-ahead. Unlike nearly every other hippo, however, Tank prefers to spit out the rind and skip it altogether.
Tank's days are spent mostly in the water, but a stall is also part of his enclosure -- also built by Ortiz, his brother and friends. It was a six-month process from start to finish.
The enclosure called for all of the concrete and rebar in Bastrop that they had to rely on Austin's supply to complete the job. The rebar for the large enclosure cost $3,000 alone.
But don't let his size fool you.
"They don't look as fast as they are," said Seibel.
And speed may come in handy for Tank, should his White Bengal tiger neighbor ever get loose. From the protection of his enclosure, Tank is constantly stalked by "Rajah" -- constantly under the ravenous gaze of the carnivore just feet away in his own secure habitat.
Still, zookeepers continue to make sure that Tank is comfortable in his new home, which continues to be a work in progress as the inquisitive hippo tests his strength against his manmade home and adjusts.
Most of the enclosure is complete, but zoo officials are still putting the finishing touches on the new hippo home. They said they hope to have it done in time for the Labor Day weekend, in time for crowds curious to take a peak at Tank.
Seibel said the zoo hopes Tank will become a fun, major attraction. The zoo is expecting a boost in the number of visitors.
"We wanted to get something no one really had," said Seibel. "Hopefully, he'll draw a nice crowd. Kids love to see the hippos."
Until then, Tank will continue to take it easy and fully enjoy the breaks that come between the relaxing dips in the pool when zookeepers spray water into his mouth.
"He's a very good little hippo right now," said Seibel. "I can say little. He's not very little on sight, but he'll get very big in the next few years."
Tank in adulthood
"We're looking forward to a 3,000-pound male hippo in about eight years," said Seibel. "He's going to be a fun, major attraction at the zoo -- our little Tank. Well, big Tank in the future."
- Tank will be a full-grown adult at about 7- to 8 years old.
- He'll weigh roughly 3,000 pounds.
- Instead of the flake or two of hay he eats now, he'll consume an entire hay bale at once.
What's next for the zoo?
A couple of female lions may be on the horizon for the Capital of Texas Zoo, but for now, they'll continue to concentrate their efforts on their newest little -- or big -- addition.
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