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Meet San Francisco’s coolest & cutest new creatures

SF Zoo's newest resident is a fresh-faced 3-year-old male Komodo dragon soon-to-be-named. | Courtesy SF Zoo

A quartet of exotic new animals have arrived at the San Francisco Zoo and the California Academy of Sciences recently, including a pint-sized hippopotamus, a pair of penguin chicks and a hot young Komodo dragon. So while Twitter crumbles and the announcement of another Trump presidential run looms, we offer you cute pics of a few unique emotional support animals to get you through your day—and maybe make you think about fighting for the environment a bit more.  

Udo, the Pygmy Hippo

Udo, whose name in the Igbo language of West Africa means “peace,” arrived at the San Francisco Zoo in October. The 2-year-old male pygmy hippopotamus is the first of his species, which is endangered and hails from coastal northwestern Africa, to reside at the zoo since 2004. 

Udo, a two-year-old male pygmy hippopotamus at San Francisco Zoo in October 2022. Pygmy hippos are native to coastal northwestern Africa and stand 2½ to 3½ feet at the shoulder and are approximately 5 to 6 feet in length. They can weigh between 400 to 600 lbs. | May Woon/SF Zoo via Bay City News

Weighing between 400 and 600 pounds, pygmy hippos are petite compared to their river hippo brethren, which can weigh over 4,000 pounds, according to zoo officials. 

“Although the pygmy hippo is much smaller than the larger river hippo, our Udo is big on personality!” San Francisco Zoological Society executive director Tanya Peterson said in a release. You can find Udo in the area of the zoo that also hosts lions and black rhinos. 

Two New Penguin Chicks 

The California Academy of Sciences welcomed a pair of African penguin chicks to its brood of avians this earlier month. The yet-to-be-named hatchlings, born in quick succession on Nov. 1 and 3, are the first babies of proud papa Bernie, 7, and mama Stanlee, 4. They are also the latest additions to the academy’s African penguin colony, part of a worldwide effort to sustain the endangered species. 

This pair of baby penguin chicks, pictured at just a few days old, are the latest additions to the California Academy of Science's colony of African penguins. | Courtesy California Academy of Sciences

Bernie and Stanlee will share parental duties with experienced parents Dunker and Kianga, who will foster one of the chicks while Bernie and Stanlee get a handle on being new parents. 

Then, after a 21-day period under the care of academy staff, it’s off to “fish school,” where the twins will learn how to swim on their own and eat fish before joining the full colony of 13 penguins. The newborn chicks are expected to join the full family in late January 2023, when a naming contest will be held.     

Meet a (Komodo) Dragon  

If you’re still hooked on House of the Dragon, now’s your chance to meet probably one of the closest creatures you’ll find to an actual dragon. The SF Zoo’s newest resident is a 3-year-old male Komodo dragon, who’ll be named by the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia on Nov. 18 and is the inspiration for a two-month-long celebration called “Tales of the Komodo Dragon.” 

The SF Zoo's newest resident is a hot young 3-year-old Komodo dragon. | Courtesy SF Zoo.

SF Zoo will host photo opportunities to take dragon-inspired selfies and offer ways to learn more about the endangered species, which is nearing extinction. While Komodos are nothing like the mythical reptiles that House Targaryen rides, these lizards have a venomous bite and have been known to attack humans. (Longtime San Franciscans may remember when a hungry LA Komodo chomped on the foot of Sharon Stone’s then-husband.) Notably, they’re also the world’s largest living lizard species, weighing 150 pounds or more and stretching as long as 10 feet. So best to admire with care. 

Christina Campodonico can be reached at