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Pygmy Hippopotamus Newsletter Spread

The pygmy hippopotamus is a medium-sized herbivorous mammal that is found


primarily in the humid forests and swamps of coastal West Africa. The name
hippopotamus derives from the Greek for river horse, and is a great description
for the pygmy hippo, which spends most of its time resting in the dense
vegetation along rivers or swamps.
The pygmy hippopotamus looks much like a miniature version of its larger
relative, the common hippopotamus. While they appear similar, there are
however many notable physical differences between the two species other than
the clear difference in size.
The head of a pygmy hippo is more rounded than that of the common hippo and
its eyes are set more on the side of the head rather than on the top of the head.
A narrow mouth and sleeker body of a pygmy hippo also helps when moving
quickly through dense vegetation in the jungle.
The pygmy hippo has acquired adaptations for spending time in the water, such
as the ability to close its ears and large nostrils when it goes underwater, but is
much less aquatic than the common hippo. Other differences include freely
moving toes with nails as opposed to webbed feet, longer legs and the teeth of a
pygmy hippo. While it only has one pair of incisors that are tusk-like and grow
rapidly, the hippo has two or three.
The pygmy hippo is also much more rare in the wild than the common hippo and
is severely threatened in its remaining habitats. They are only found in the
interior forests of coastal West Africa, mainly confined to Liberia. However, small
numbers of pygmy hippo have also been found in the neighboring countries of
Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
Pygmy hippos have extraordinarily high rates of water loss due to their unique
and sensitive skin structure. The top layer of its greenish-black skin is smooth
and thin to help the animal stay cool in the humid rain forest. However, the thin
skin of the pygmy hippo can quickly cause dehydration in the sun, which is why it
spends most of its days resting in the cool mud along river banks and swamps.
A pink fluid called blood sweat also oozes from the hippos skin, giving it a shiny,
or wet appearance. This blood sweat helps to protect the hippos sensitive skin
from sunburn, similar to the sunscreen that humans use.
Mainly nocturnal, pygmy hippos remain well hidden in swamps, wallows or rivers
during the heat of the day waiting until nighttime to feed on land in the cool of the
night. The species is exclusively herbivorous, and feeds on leaves, roots, ferns
and fallen fruit. This kind of vegetation also makes up the meals that our pygmy
hippos are fed here at the Zoo. Pygmy hippos mainly search for their food on the
forest floor or in swamps but can stand on their hind legs to reach food higher up
in trees if they need to.
Unlike their larger, more sociable relatives, pygmy hippos do not live in herds and
are thought to actively avoid one another. They tend to live solitary lives but can
sometimes be seen in pairs during mating or with a calf. Pygmy hippos are shy
and would much rather flee from a predator than stay and fight. The act of
yawning and displaying their teeth and tusks is usually enough to fend off
potential enemies. The effects of predators on pygmy hippo populations are
unknown, although it is thought that leopards may be capable of preying on the
species.
The IUCN Red List classifies pygmy hippos as Endangered, with the main threat
to this species being deforestation. The forests that these hippos have
historically inhabited have been steadily logged, farmed and settled on due to
high demand of the rare and sought-after tropical timbers within these areas.
Human development activities have also caused the retreat of pygmy hippo into
diminishing parts of forests that are becoming increasingly fragmented. Because
of the nature of their habitat requirements, pygmy hippos are extremely sensitive
to this loss of forest. In Liberia, where the majority of remaining wild pygmy
hippos inhabits, legal protection is described as incomplete and the level of
enforcement protection is poor.
While the population of wild pygmy hippos is endangered, there is presently a
good captive population of this species, which has bred successfully in captivity
and has doubled in size over the last 25 years. Because of this, if the wild
population of these hippos becomes extinct, it will be possible to maintain the
species in captivity, providing a last-ditch safeguard against total extinction. In
the mean time, active conservation efforts are working to prevent the extinction of
this great species.
Be sure to visit our pygmy hippos here at the Zoo during your next visit, located
across from the giraffes!