Gender reveal video featuring hippo at Texas zoo births viral attention, criticism

Brandon Mulder
Tank the hippo was featured in a viral gender reveal video that has been viewed millions of times. [CAPITAL OF TEXAS ZOO]

The Capital of Texas Zoo near Austin, Texas, became the object of the internet’s attention this week after a couple’s gender reveal video involving a hippopotamus went viral.

The video, which was filmed Sept. 18 and posted to video sharing platform TikTok, shows the couple holding a watermelon filled with Jell-O before Tank, the zoo’s large bull hippopotamus. The couple throws the melon into Tank’s wide-open mouth and, no stranger to watermelon treats in the summertime, Tank crushes the Jell-O-filled fruit with a hippo’s ferocious force.

The Jell-O that poured onto the ground was blue. The couple is having a boy.

“Yes!” the father-to-be exclaims as he embraced his wife. “Thank God!”

Gender reveals have become a nascent tradition. It’s an event held for parents to discover the sex of their baby that has grown in popularity alongside the rise of social media platforms. The first gender reveal video was uploaded to YouTube in 2009, and by 2011 the trend began gaining traction, a YouTube spokesperson told The Washington Post last year. Google Trends show that the search terms “gender reveal” peaked in July 2017 and again in July 2018. The fad ranges from the modest — cutting into a cake with its blue or pink color hidden by a layer of frosting — to the outrageous, such as when an explosive packed with blue powder erupted and set fire to 47,000 acres of the Coronado National Forest in Arizona in 2017. The fad has become joyous to some and loathsome to others.

The TikTok video with Tank the hippo had all the makings of becoming the next viral episode. It wasn’t until Sept. 21, when documentary and comedy filmmaker Ana Breton tweeted the video to her 6,700 followers, that the video took off.

“I did it,” Breton said in her tweet of the video. “I found the worst gender reveal.”

What followed was a tsunami of online attention. The couple who had the gender reveal event became a target of a stream of criticism from people mostly concerned for the well-being of Tank after he ate Jell-O.

“Gave the poor hippo all that blue #1 dye now he about to have cancer,” read one tweet.

“Mainly, I want to know how this isn’t animal cruelty,” read another.

By Monday, the video had garnered millions of views and the zoo’s phone was ringing off the hook.

“Every media in the world has called, from TMZ to 'Access Hollywood' to 'Inside Edition,'” said the zoo’s owner, Michael Hicks. “I’ve literally given 30 interviews and answered questions and everything else. We’ll see what it does for our attendance.”

Hicks spent the early part of the week answering questions to allay fears that the hippo’s health was harmed by the Jell-O, which he said was made with a natural sweetener and was approved by the zoo’s veterinarian. Refrigerated Jell-O is a treat he gives to many of the zoo’s animals in summer.

The couple, Bridgette and Jonathan Joseph, spoke to KVUE about the social media firestorm the video touched off.

“I was shocked because I didn’t understand what we had done so wrong ... and honestly was kind of hurt by some of the stuff people were saying,” Bridgette said.

On Sunday, Breton posted an apology to the couple.

“While I’m not a fan of gender reveals, it was not my intention to bring darkness to their special day,” she tweeted.

It’s not the first time the Capital of Texas Zoo has been at the center of a viral story. In 2008, a stolen camel and pony, Moses and Coco, were returned to the zoo after Hicks announced a $400 reward, sparking headlines across the country.

“This was much bigger than that,” Hicks said. “That (the stolen camel and pony incident) made national news, but this has been 10 times bigger.”

He only hopes it might increase visitation to the zoo over the weekend.

“Tank (the hippo) loves people and he loves attention — he’s just like a big puppy dog, although a very potentially dangerous puppy dog,” Hicks said.