Billy (pygmy hippo)

Billy (pygmy hippo)

Billy, or William Johnson Hippopotamus, (1920s – October 11, 1955Cite book | author = Crandall, Lee S. | title = Management of Wild Mammals in Captivity | year = 1964 | location = Chicago | publisher = University of Chicago Press ] ) was a Pygmy Hippopotamus given as a pet to U.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Captured in Liberia, he was given to Coolidge by Harvey Firestone in 1927. Billy spent most of his life in the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. In addition to his fame as an exotic presidential pet—which afforded him a trip to the 1939 New York World's Fair—Billy is also notable as the common ancestor to most pygmy hippos in American zoos.Cite web | url = | title = Pygmy Hippo fact sheet | work = Smithsonian National Zoological Park | accessdate = 2007-11-04 ] By the time of his death in 1955, Billy had sired 23 children; 13 of whom survived at least a year.

Early years

In 1927, Harvey Firestone, the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, acquired Billy in Liberia, where he was captured on one of Firestone Tires' large plantations. Calvin Coolidge, who was the U.S. President at the time, was known for his collection of animals, including many dogs, birds, a wallaby, lion cubs, a raccoon and other unusual animals.cite news |url =|title = Pets of Presidents, From the Dog House to the White House |work = The Washington Post |date = April 23, 2001 ] At the time, pygmy hippos were virtually unknown in the United States. On May 26, 1927, Coolidge was informed that he would receive the rare hippo, already adult-sized at convert|6|ft|m long and around convert|600|lb|kg, as a gift. [Cite news | title = Baby Hippo for Coolidge Is Coming From Liberia | work = The New York Times | date = May 27, 1927 | author = Special to The New York Times | page = 25 ]

In Coolidge's autobiography he wrote about the unusual menagerie he collected and stated that he donated many of these animals, including Billy, to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.Coolidge, Calvin. "The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (1929)", ISBN 1410216225 or ISBN 978-1410216229] Though Coolidge had a deep fascination with animals, he was overshadowed by Theodore Roosevelt, who was more widely known for and associated with his interest in animals. By August of 1927, Coolidge had sent the second largest collection of animals of any president after Roosevelt to the zoo, and paid them frequent visits. Upon his arrival, Billy was one of the most-valuable animals the zoo had ever received, and was only the eighth pygmy hippopotamus to be brought to the United States. Billy was a popular animal; several months after his arrival, "The New York Times" wrote Billy was "as frisky as a dog. Even the antics of the monkeys go unobserved when the keeper opens the tiny hippo's cage and cuts up with him."Cite news | title = Coolidge Pets Could Make Zoo of Their Own | work = The New York Times | date = August 28, 1927 ]

Parenting troubles

Today, pygmy hippos breed well in captivity: since Billy's arrival, 58 pygmy hippos have been born at the National Zoo alone. As one of the earliest pygmy hippos in captivity in the U.S. zoo system, Billy went on to become the direct ancestor of nearly all pygmy hippos in American zoos. When Billy first came to the zoo, however, keepers did not know much about pygmy hippopotamus husbandry. A mate for Billy, a female named Hannah, was acquired by the zoo on September 4, 1929.Cite news | title = Pity the Poor Stork! He's Late With a Baby Hippo for the Zoo | author = Gross, Gerald G. | work = The Washington Post | page = X1 ] Billy's and Hannah's first child was born on August 26, 1931, but did not survive the week. "Inability to survive the neglect of an errant mother was the cause given for baby Hippo's demise", eulogized "The Washington Post". [Cite news | title = Ignored by Mother, Infant Hippo Dies | work = The Washington Post | date = August 30, 1931 | page = M3] Over the next two years, two more babies would follow, both of which died in infancy. Billy's third child was killed when Hannah rolled on top of the baby and crushed it. "She's just a bad mother", said the zoo's long-time director Dr. William M. Mann to "The Washington Post", upon the death of the third infant. [Cite news | title = Pygmy Hippo Kills Its Third Offspring; Jungle Mother Rolls on Latest Infant and Crushes Out Life | date = May 5, 1933 | work = The Washington Post | page = 18 ]

As Hannah's fourth pregnancy progressed, zoo-keepers noticed she seemed to be less agitated than previous pregnancies and attributed this to their new quarters: during her previous three pregnancies, Hannah had lived in the zoo's lion house, a stressful environment for a pregnant hippo. On Mother's Day of 1938, Hannah successfully gave birth to a healthy baby. [Cite news | title = Baby-Killing Hippo Gives Birth Again at D.C. Zoo; Belated Baby Born at Zoo on Mother's Day | work = The Washington Post | date = May 9, 1938 | page = X1 ]

Life as a stud

Such was Billy's popularity in the 1930s that at the end of the decade he traveled to Queens, New York, for the 1939 New York World's Fair, where he appeared in the Firestone exhibit. Billy and Hannah successfully had more children, and because of Billy's worth as a breeding stud, in 1940, Mann traveled to Liberia as part of the Smithsonian-Firestone animal expedition, and acquired a second-mate for Billy, another female who came to be known as Matilda. [Cite news | title = Pygmy Hippo to Become Polygamist, New Mate Captured by Expedition | work = The Washington Post | date = July 10, 1940 | page = 15 ] [Cite news | title = Dr. Mann Back With Rare Beasts: 300 New Tenants for Zoo Here | author = Gross, Gerald G. | work = The Washington Post | date = August 11, 1940 | page = 25]

Between 1931 and 1954, Hannah gave birth to 15 of Billy's children, 7 of whom were reared or lived at least one year. Between 1943 and 1956, Matilda gave birth to 8 of Billy's children, 6 of which were reared. At some point during the 1940s, the press started to refer to Billy as William Johnson Hippopotamus. The zoo developed the tradition of naming all his children Gumdrop, using Roman numerals to distinguish them. By the birth of Gumdrop XVI, the zoo had noticed something curious: of all Billy's children, only one was male. [Cite news | title = Baby Gumdrop Arrives at Zoo | work = The Washington Post | date = January 31, 1955 | page = 26 ] Research would later confirm that pygmy hippos in captivity are far more likely to give birth to females, though not by such an extreme ratio as Billy.Cite journal | journal = Journal of Mammalogy | volume = 83 | number = 3 | pages = 674–681 | year = 2002 | title = Distorted Sex Ratio at Birth in the Captive Pygmy Hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon Liberiensis | author = Zschokke, Samuel | doi = 10.1644/1545-1542(2002)083<0674:DSRABI>2.0.CO;2 | doilabel = 10.1644/1545-1542(2002)0830674:DSRABI2.0.CO;2] Twenty-three years after Coolidge's death (January 5, 1933) Billy himself died on October 11, 1955, five months before the birth of Gumdrop XVIII. "He carried his work on to the end", said a zoo official.Cite news | title = Gumdrop XVII Born At Zoo | work = The Washington Post | date = March 31, 1956 | page = 1 ] Hannah followed Billy in death on March 6, 1958.

A legacy continued

After a year or two at the National Zoo, Billy's offspring were typically sent to other locations. Among the places to which his children were transferred: the Cole Bros. Circus, Philadelphia Zoological Gardens, Catskill Game Farm, the Miller Bros. Circus, the Fort Worth Zoo, as well as international destinations such as Sydney and London. [Cite news | title = Annual Report on The National Zoological Park | publisher = Smithsonian National Zoological Park | location = Washington, DC | date = 1959] In 1960, after learning that the zoo's female pygmy hippos remained without male companionship after Billy's death, Liberian President William Tubman dispatched a search party to find a new male pygmy hippopotamus to ship to Washington. [Cite news | title = Pygmy Hippopotamus Starts for Washington | work = Reuters via The New York Times | date = June 22, 1960 | page = 2 ] The pygmy hippopotamus, named Totota, arrived in Brooklyn, New York, on February 4, 1960, and traveled via station wagon to Washington the next day, where he would continue Billy's breeding legacy with the zoo's female pygmy hippos, two of which were Billy's daughters. [Cite news | title = Hippo Takes a Shipboard Stroll, and Misses His Washington Debut | work = The New York Times | date = February 5, 1960 | page = 29] [Stroman, H.R., & Slaughter, L.M., "The care and breeding of the pygmy hippopotamus Choeropsis liberiensis in captivity", National Zoological Park, International Zoo Yearbook Vol. 12, 1972]

ee also

*List of United States Presidential pets


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