January 12, 1998

Hip, hippo, hooray! Great couples throughout history have called the Walt Disney WorldResort their home: Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy, Beauty and the Beast and now Norman and Matilda?! That's right. The Oklahoma City Zoo's resident Nile hippopotamus Norman and Matilda are moving to Disney's Animal KingdomTheme Park at the Walt Disney WorldResort near Orlando, Florida.

Gift wrapped for delivery on December 24, 1953, Matilda was the first hippopotamus to ever grace the then Lincoln Park Zoo. A nation wide hit song entitled "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" performed by Oklahoma City's own ten-year-old Gayla Peevey helped the Zoo raise funds for Matilda. The $3,000 needed to buy her was collected in 13 days with contributions coming in from around Oklahoma, across the nation and even other countries. The year-and-a-half 700-pound Matilda was visited by over 5,000 people on Christmas Day. Those catching a glimpse of the Zoo's newest sweetheart must have had a short visit as Matilda's temporary quarters held only ten people at a time. She was later moved to her permanent home in the Zoo's Pachyderm building in the 1960's. Norman, the Zoo's 30-year-old male arrived in August 1967 and sired nine offspring with Matilda.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for these two animals to join a large social grouping of hippos in a naturalistic environment", said Steve Wylie, Executive Director of the Oklahoma City Zoo. "Their current housing does not allow for both animals to be outside together. " Wylie added. Disney's Animal KingdomTheme Park is scheduled to open Spring, 1998. The new hippo habitat immerses visitors into the wilds of Africa. Travelers to this environment can discover hippos in an expansive river setting complete with islands and lush vegetation. Wylie concludes, "Although Norman and Matilda will be missed in Oklahoma City, their quality of life will be greatly enhanced by this move."

Hippopotamus inhabit the rivers and lakes of West, Central and East Africa. They can reach sizes of up to 11 feet long and five feet in height and can weigh up to 7,000 pounds. Their main threats to survival are human encroachment, loss of habitat, pollution and the ivory trade.



March 3, 1998

The Oklahoma City Zoo was notified Monday afternoon that "Matilda," the 48-year-old Nile hippopotamus being moved to Disney's Animal KingdomTM Theme Park at the Walt Disney WorldTM Resort, died due to heart failure en route to her new home. Scheduled to arrive in Orlando, Florida Monday, March 2, Matilda left Oklahoma City at 10:20 a.m. Sunday, March I by trailer.

She was diverted to the University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville for a necropsy scheduled Tuesday morning. Complete tissue analysis and cause of death findings are not expected until the middle of next week. Matilda reportedly had been eating well before and during the transfer and was checked each hour of the scheduled 36 hour trip. Her death was discovered outside Tallahassee, Florida 28 hours into the transfer.

"Norman" the Zoo's 30-year-old-male Nile hippopotamus shipped February 12 arrived at the resort February 14 and is doing well. For the safety of the animals being shipped, they must be housed in special crates. The animals are given the time necessary to become oriented with the crate and are moved according to their comfort level. Matilda was originally scheduled to leave in tandem with Norman. But Norman acclimated to the crate on a different time frame and shipped earlier.