It's a happy birthday for Lu, the Homosassa hippo who just turned 59

The hippopotamus has lived most of his life at Citrus County's Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

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click to enlarge Lu, Citrus county's longtime resident hippo, turned 59 this week. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park threw her two parties. She's kind of a big deal... figuratively *and* literally. - Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, via Facebook
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, via Facebook
Lu, Citrus county's longtime resident hippo, turned 59 this week. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park threw her two parties. She's kind of a big deal... figuratively *and* literally.

His real name is Lucifer — hippos, after all, can be deadly (they kill around 3,000 people every year, whereas sharks, on average, kill under 100 people and alligators have only killed 22 people — in Florida — since the 1940s) — but you can call him Lu.

Lu isn't your average hippo; rather than grazing on up to 80 pounds of grass every day in sub-Saharan Africa, he lives at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Like all hippos, he's a vegetarian and the folks at Homosassa Springs say she loves watermelon.

The park celebrates his "birthday" every year on Jan. 28, and yesterday was no exception, with not one, but two celebrations that included — you guessed it — Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops. Lu's kind of a big deal; Florida Governor Lawton Chiles made him a citizen in 1989, when Florida changed laws about allowing non-native animals in captivity at state parks. The park says Lu is 59, which is not bad for a hippo (they only live about 40 years in the wild).

Lu came to live at the park in the mid-1960s with Ivan Tors Animal Actors. Tors produced shows like Flipper and SeaHunt; many of his animals lived at Homosassa Springs when not working on a show. Perhaps the most famous — if you don't count Lu, of course — was a bear named Buck, who worked as a stand-in for Ben on Gentle Ben.

Now, arm yourself with some random trivia about hippos: They can run at speeds of up to 14 mph (they can't run at that speed for any length of time, though, which is probably why the phrase "quick like a hippo" never caught on). Hippopotamus have two collective nouns: bloat and school. They can weigh up to four tons. They get their name from the ancient Greek for "river horse" and it's an apt name — they spend up to 16 hours a day in the water. Here's our favorite one, though: for a long time people believed hippos sweated blood. Nope. They do secrete red, oily liquid, though — and it acts as a sunblock.

And now our least favorite fact: The species is in decline, thanks to — you guessed it — humans who want their ivory, meat or land. Here's one way to help.

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About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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