Only Florida Resident Hippopotamus turns 63.
A crowd of several hundred people gathered at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on Friday, January 27th, to sing “Happy Birthday” to Lu the hippo. What started many years ago as a small party has become an annual celebration for Lu, the park’s only Hippopotamus. Lu also happens to be the park’s oldest resident. Friday marked Lu’s 63rd birthday, and he seemed to be enjoying his senior status. Lu has already exceeded the normal life expectancy of a hippo, which is less than 60 years. Lu was born in San Diego in 1960 and found himself in his new home in the Homosassa Park in 1964. Lu even had his brush with fame, landing recurring roles in the TV series “Daktari!”, which aired on CBS from 1966 – 1969, and “Cowboy in Africa” (1967-1968). The 3500-pound giant quickly became a favorite of both young and old.
In 1989, the state of Florida took over the wildlife park and planned to remove all animals that were not Florida natives. However, locals and hundreds of Floridians petitioned Gov. Lawton Chiles to keep Lu at the park. As a result, Governor Chiles made Lu an Honorary Citizen of Florida.
Some still travel thousands of miles just to visit him every year. Among this year’s party guests were Milwaukee, Wisconsin residents Ryan Novak and Tim Sluga, who traveled all the way to Florida just to be here for Lu’s Birthday event. They weren’t hard to pick out from the crowd, as both sported a full-body hippopotamus suit topped by a party hat. Ryan said he first met Lu when he visited the park over 12 years ago and has returned every year. Ryan’s friend, Tim, said it was his first year here. He stated he was having a beer with Ryan one night when the subject of Lu’s birthday came up, and it “seemed like a great reason for a road trip.”
Two other big fans of Lu in attendance were Alyssa Banstad and Jessi Streator of St. Augustine. They were there with a cart from their business, “The Hyppo” (what else?), handing out free “Gourmet Ice Pops” to a hundred or more school children attending the celebration.
A crowd several rows deep surrounded Lu’s pond and sang as park Rangers brought out a large birthday cake made of alfalfa, grains, and melons topped with the number 63. It must have been too good to resist, as Lu eventually climbed out of the water (which can’t be easy for a hippo) to finish off some hay and other leftovers on the concrete “beach” at the end of his pond.
“He’d better enjoy it today because tomorrow he’s back on his regular diet of 50 pounds of food per day,” one Ranger said with a smile.
Visit Lu the Hippo at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Par; 4150 S Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa, FL 34446 (352) 628-5343.