The Wait is Over: James Dondero Helps Bring Back Dallas Zoo’s Beloved Hippos!


Dallas citizens are currently falling for Adhama and Boipelo, two hippos who now inhabit the 2.1 acre exhibit sponsored by Highland Capital Management. Run by CEO James Dondero, HCM has spent years working with the zoo to create the perfect space for these sensational new celebrities. This came as a pleasant surprise to the many nearby residents who had been begging to bring hippos back after 16 years without them at the Dallas Zoo. Their last hippo, named Papa, died back in 2001, with no offspring to speak of. So why the long wait in finding new ones?

Well, it’s not exactly easy to reintroduce hippos to a zoo without harming them or their current lifestyle. Furthermore, the zoo didn’t want to make their move until they could ensure that the hippos had a suitable habitat. The zoo’s ideal result would be to balance this habitat with the right kind of visitor experience. The according design would be a challenge, both technically and financially, to pull off.

Technical design for such large creatures involves fresh, circulating water – and lots of it. The hippo would want to swim between a large outdoor pool and a few small pools that stemmed from it. The habitat would also need to look natural and handle a lot of liquid turbulence as the hippos moved and splashed around. When they moved onto land, there would need to be a soft grain sand to support and cushion their footing. This is similar to what one sees on a golf course.

Finally, a monorail line would be above the pools so visitors could view the hippos in their natural state, without bothering them or getting too close. The end result would be a safe, but immersive, experience for everyone involved! Creating such a spacious, dynamic enclosure would require a large team of experts, including horticulturists, CLR designers, and local construction teams. It would also require quite a bit of time and fundraising to make this wonderful habitat come to life.

That’s where HCM and founder James Dondero would come in handy. The zoo quickly realized how costly their upcoming project would be: around $14 million, to be precise! That’s quite an investment, and would require a team of experts in creating effective turnaround. Fortunately, James Dondero, a renowned investment expert with over three decades of experience in finances, would be up for the task. He created HCM in 1993 and began specializing in credit solutions for investors around the world. Based in Texas, the company works hard to create and give back funds to their surrounding communities. What better way to give back than to help create a family-friendly space that benefits man, animal and nature? Dondero saw this as the perfect opportunity to invest in Texas’ future. In fact, his contribution would have a major impact in bringing hippos back to the Dallas Zoo.

When the team in Dallas began fundraising, James Dondero heeded the call, providing an impressive $1 million donation. This translated to a 5,000-sq. ft. center for private functions, helping ensure that the zoo could provide what the hippos needed. It also translated to creating a habitat that would draw in more visitors and, accordingly, more money to maintain the habitat long-term. This was Dondero’s vision, and he would make sure that the new habitat built off Papa’s old hippo home in every way possible. The team brought in several keepers from Papa’s home as consultants on what to keep for the new exhibit plans. The keepers were happy to see Dondero and the rest of the team giving their all, and were present at the reveal four years later.

During this time, while the zoo’s team gets the space ready, new keepers are sent to LA and Albuquerque to get to know the hippos going to Dallas. Adhama is adventurous and playful, the keepers describing him the way one would a puppy. He’s also friendly, making eyes at those who stop to see him. He also likes to do tricks to entertain crowds, such as massive underwater rolls. For his size, it is amazingly graceful!

Boipelo, his female companion from Albuquerque, complements his personality nicely. She is used to her pool space, not the new one with the underwater viewing space. She is also much shyer than Boipelo, although she becomes a bit of a performer when playing with Adhama in water. Her favorite thing? Apples! She will have to adjust to a more independent lifestyle away from her mother and brother, but she also has a carefully-picked team of keepers to help her stay safe and happy in Dallas. Ideally, she and Adhama will kick it off enough to couple up and introduce a baby hippo to the zoo once more! This is far off into the future, though; in the meantime, the zoo will gradually introduce the hippos to their new habitat, potential companions, and training.