DENVER (CBS4) – Happy “Bertday” to Bert, the Denver Zoo’s 58-year-old hippo.
The oldest known hippo in the world, at least at accredited zoos, celebrated his amazing longevity with birthday cake and a large gathering of visitors on Thursday.
“Fifty-eight in hippo years is like a man being 110,” zookeeper and pachyderm expert Dave Johnson said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bert Turns 58
On Tuesday, he chowed down on pounds of cake — or, at least, what is cake to a hippo: soaked grass-eater grain, soaked monkey chow, bananas and apple sauce mixed together.
The monkey chow is a juice-scented biscuit treat that “smells much better than it tastes,” Johnson laughs. “But the animals love them.”
Johnson decorated the cake with apple slices for candles and garnish. Bert consumed it in roughly eight bites over several minutes as Johnson tossed handfuls into the hippo’s gaping mouth.
“He’s taking another bite!” a younger visitor exclaimed during Bert’s party, presumably impressed a hippo could eat that much.
Bert, who’s lived at the zoo since donors Helen and Arthur Johnson brought him to Denver on a train in 1958, shares space with one other hippo, his son Mahali.
“He has been with us for many years,” zoo spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart said. “It’s a big deal for us today.”
Hippos tend to live 30 to 40 years in the wild and 40 to 45 years in captivity. Johnson said the oldest hippo on record lived to be 61. Bert — one of the zoo’s resident geriatrics along with an 80-something-year-old alligator snapping turtle named Bob and a “really old” flamingo — has fathered 29 children with two females during his 56 years at the zoo. Not bad for a guy carrying approximately 5,000 pounds on his frame.
“He’s still getting around really well,” Johnson said.
Bert — or Bertie for those who know him well — now eats more alfalfa, grain and fatty foods to help him maintain his weight. Barnhart said the zoo used to treat him to real cake — angel food, for instance — but they’ve made the celebration healthier.
“You can’t live this old if you eat junk food,” Johnson said.
– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com