Hippo Heaven: Camden's Adventure Aquarium debuts new digs for Genny and Button
Button and Genny have been roommates for almost nine years.
And like many sets of best friends, the girls recently had their living space remodeled.
The difference is, Button and Genny are hippopotamuses, and they share a room with two pools (one in their back, holding area) at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden.
Button, 17 and weighing in at approximately 3,000 pounds, and Genny, 14 at about 4,000 pounds, now play, swim and eat as part of a show that features projection, lights and music — all to enhance their lives and their guests' enjoyment.
"Everything just becomes part of their new environment," said Ann-Marie Bisagno, aquarium supervisor of birds and mammals. "We worked hard to condition them to take to change without being stressed."
Hippo Haven recently received a $1 million make-over, including a projection show and music to enhance visitors' encounters with the massive mammals.
"From planning to construction and installation, it took 18 months," said Kimberly Horishny, guest relations director. "Because we're the only aquarium in the United States with hippos, we really wanted a great exhibit."
Horishny said that, even though the old enclosure was great for the aquarium and for the underwater view of the hippos, the staff wanted something more.
"We felt it wasn't as warm or inviting as what it is now," Horishny said. "We wanted something big and exciting that would set the stage for the really exciting moment when you come face to face with them in the water."
So, Adventure Aquarium called on Mousetrappe — a company that was "put on the map" through three major projects — to bring the magic to Hippo Haven.
Mousetrappe is responsible for the projection show on Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World, the grand-opening spectacular at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida and the Space Shuttle Atlantis experience at Kennedy Space Center.
The projected images, light show and original musical score take visitors through a day on an African river.
"It starts with the rainy season," Horishny said. "The clouds roll in and it's really cool because that's where they get their food and life."
Then comes the "grass dance" featuring other African animals such as zebras, giraffes, and baboons, until night falls and the hippos roam the plains.
"We set the stage for an unforgettable experience," Horishny said. "We love it."
To get the girls ready for the big show, Bisagno said they used props similar to those that now appear in Hippo Haven.
"We took hula hoops with bags on them and shined lights on them, and used disco lights so they could get used to the different lights and movement," she said. "It's all based on the animals' reactions. We never push them. The timeline is based on them."
However, she said Genny and Button got used to the new additions quickly and seem to be happy in their new, exciting home.
Part of the renovations includes a new filtration system to keep the 60,000-gallon tank clear for optimum hippo viewing.
"As you can imagine, animals of this size create a lot of waste," Bisagno said. "They are mainly in the water most of the day just like they would be in the wild."
Having been born and raised in captivity and around humans all their lives, both Genny and Button enjoy watching their visitors as much as their visitors like to watch them.
"They really are comfortable around people," Bisagno said.
And because these creatures are so interactive and graceful, they gain a lot of fans from those who come to visit.
Guests now have the opportunity to adopt a hippo through the Turgwe Hippo Trust in Zimbabwe — a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and conserving vulnerable wild African hippos.
Those who adopt a hippo will assist in preserving their natural habitat, protecting the hippos from poachers and hunters, and helping to maintain the Turgwe river system.