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CONTACT: Susan Strawbridge, (352) 628-5343, ext. 1002
  Jessica Kemper Sims, (850) 245-3029, (850) 251-0834 (cell)
  Amy Graham, (850) 245-2112, (850) 778-7258 (cell)

Florida's Resident Hippo Celebrates 50th Birthday during Florida State Parks Diamond Anniversary

~2010 marks significant milestone for Lu the Hippo and Florida State Parks~

TALLAHASSEE - Today marked the half-century celebration of a beloved resident at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (Homosassa Springs). Lu, resident hippopotamus at Homosassa Springs, today celebrated his 50th birthday with park staff, visitors and Homosassa Elementary School students who presented the hippo with his own birthday cake during two birthday parties at the park.

One of the 25 events highlighting the 75th Anniversary of Florida State Parks in 2010, Lu's birthday bash featured two celebrations throughout the day. During the first birthday bash, students celebrated with cupcakes and a song for the occasion. Lu was also presented with a new tractor tire to honor his many years of celebrated residence. A second party for park visitors followed with an informative alligator/hippopotamus program.

"This year marks a special milestone for both Homosassa Springs and the state park system as a whole," said Homosassa Springs Manager Art Yerian. "Both a 50th birthday and the 75th anniversary of Florida State Parks makes this a great time for residents and guests to experience the fascinating wildlife and affordable fun at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park."

Lu, an African Hippopotamus, was born at the San Diego Zoo on January 26, 1960. He weighed 90 pounds at birth and now weighs more than 6,000 pounds. As a vegetarian, Lu consumes 15 pounds of alfalfa hay, four scoops of herbivore diet and a five gallon bucket of vegetables and fruit every day.

A fixture at Homosassa Springs since 1964, Lu's claim to fame is his role as a former movie and television star with the Ivan Tors Animal Actors troupe, which wintered at the park while in private ownership. He is credited in the 1960s movies Daktari and Cowboy in Africa, and in television specials such as Jack Linkletter Show and Herb Alpert Special.

Although Lu's fame has remained steady for more than four decades, his state park habitat was once jeopardized. When the Florida Park Service purchased the attraction in 1989, the state planned to shift the emphasis of the park to native Florida wildlife and find homes for all the exotic species, including Lu. Public support, however, led Governor Lawton Chiles to grant Lu an exemption in 1991. Special Florida citizenship has allowed Lu to stay at the park, and his fans to continue to display their appreciation annually at his birthday celebration.

Located 20 miles north of Florida's newest state park Weeki Wachee Springs, Homosassa Springs is one of the region's most popular attractions. An underwater manatee observatory provides a unique view of Florida's famed sea cows. In addition, a 1,600-foot Wildlife Walk showcases the natural habitats of bobcats, cougars, otters, bears and hundreds of birds. The state park also offers boat tours, trails, picnicking and an interactive Children's Education Center and Museum. To learn more about Homosassa Springs and Lu the hippo, visit http://www.floridastateparks.org/homosassasprings/default.cfm.

Throughout 2010, DEP's Florida State Parks will celebrate 75 years of recreation and preservation. Florida State Parks will host special activities and interpretive events from coast to coast, including 25 signature events which highlight individual parks' histories, as well as the history of the state park system as a whole.

To learn more about 75th Anniversary events, contests and discounts visit www.FloridaStateParks.org, and follow us on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/FLStateParks. Learn more about the history of Florida State Parks by visiting www.floridastateparks.org/history.

lu the hippo

"This year marks a special milestone for both Homosassa Springs and the state park system as a whole."

Art Yerian
Park Manager of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park



Last updated: January 29, 2010

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