MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A pygmy hippopotamus who became a media star and visitor favorite at Zoo Miami when he was born on August 4, 2018 continues to recover Sunday after undergoing critical surgery to repair a birth defect that had the potential of becoming a life-threatening condition.

Aubergine, a juvenile pygmy hippo at Zoo Miami, undergoes critical surgery on May 24, 2019, to repair a secondary palate defect that had the potential of becoming a life-threatening condition. (Courtesy: Zoo Miami/Ron Magill)

Aubergine has a secondary palate defect, according to Zoo Miami Communications Director Ron Magill. That means Aubergine’s soft pallet is abnormally short, allowing food to enter the nasal cavity when he swallows.

A team of physicians and veterinarians pooled their skills Friday to operate on the young hippo on Friday.

They surgically extended Aubergine’s soft palate in hopes of preventing the intrusion of food into the nasal cavities, which could lead to serious respiratory complications, according to Magill.


The entire procedure took approximately 3 hours and following the surgery, Aubergine was safely returned to his barn where he was reunited with his mother and is back on his feet, apparently recovering well.

Now weighing just over 125 pounds, the young hippo has already gained more than ten times his birthweight and continues to grow at a rapid rate.  For the next two weeks, he will be kept off exhibit and fed soft foods so that the sutures in his extended palate can heal.  Though the doctors are cautiously optimistic about the surgery, only time will tell if it was a success.