Hannah Shirley, Oldest Pygmy Hippo in Managed Care, Turns 50

Pygmy hippopotamus Hannah Shirley at her Humane Society birthday bash. Courtesy San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center.
Pygmy hippopotamus Hannah Shirley at her Humane Society birthday bash. Courtesy San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center.

The San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center threw a birthday party Wednesday for the center’s grand dame and one of its oldest residents — a 50-year-old pygmy hippopotamus.

Hannah Shirley, reportedy North America’s oldest pygmy hippo in managed care, celebrated alongside staff and volunteers with presents and a cake made of a watermelon base, papaya “frosting,” spaghetti squash, sweet grain and horse treat sprinkles.

Hannah Shirley is one of fifteen wild ambassador animals at the wildlife center, and has lived there since 2002, when she was discovered in a residential backyard in Escondido. She was rescued and transported to what was then The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center.

The San Diego Humane Society acquired the facility on Sept. 1, 2020, and has since assumed care of the beloved animal.

Nina Thompson, a Humane Society spokesperson, said the organization was able to confirm Hannah Shirley’s age through the “International Studbook,” which tracks the age and movements of wild animals in human care.

“You can tell how loved Hannah Shirley is by our staff and volunteers just by looking at the details in this celebration,” said Andy Blue, campus director for the center.

“She’s treated like royalty every day, but reaching 50 years old is an incredible milestone for an animal who wouldn’t typically surpass 30 in the wild.”

Hannah Shirley weighs about 500 pounds and lives in a 13,000-square- foot paddock, complete with a swimming pool and natural pond.

“She enjoys a deservingly pampered life by Project Wildlife’s team that includes back rubs, sprinkler showers and lots of food-related enrichment activities,” a center statement said.

Hannah Shirley offered no comment, but according to the statement, she decided to take part and enjoy the celebration — despite being a nocturnal creature.

City News Service contributed to this article.