Pygmy Hippo Fact File
The pygmy hippo is the smaller cousin of the larger, more commonly known river hippo. They average around one-fifth the size of a river hippo. An average pygmy hippo would weigh between 245 and 275kg (540-610lbs). On average their body measures 1.4-1.6m (4.5-5ft) long.
Their skin is mostly black on the back and sides with a grayish-white underside. Their body is suited to spending more time on land with less webbing between the toes and a smaller head which is suited to pushing through the forest. They have a barrel shaped body with short legs.
They have only a single pair of incisors compared to two or three for river hippos.
At the end of the body is a tail which measures 16cm (6.3in) long.
The pygmy hippo is a herbivore. Their diet is made up of plant materials such as shrubs, succulents, roots, grasses, leaves, ferns and fruit.
They have been known to stand on their hind legs to reach foliage higher up trees.
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Africa is the native home of the pygmy hippo. The majority of the population lives in Liberia with small populations also inhabiting Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
A former population in Nigeria is now extinct.
Their range does not overlap with that of the related river hippo.
They make their home in primary and secondary forests near a watercourse such as a river or stream. Some can also be found in gallery forests, woodlands and savanna.
Both males and females form a home territory which is marked using dung.
Pygmy hippos may mate on land or in the water. Males which hold the largest territory experience the largest reproductive success. A male is usually nearby when the female is ready to mate.
They give birth on land following a 6-7 month gestation. They will give birth to a single calf. At birth the calf weighs 3.4-6.4kg (7.5-14lbs).
For the first few weeks of life the calf is tucked away in a bush while the mother goes off to feed.
Growth is quick and by five months old they are already 10 times their birth weight.
Weaning takes place from six to eight months old.
Sexual maturity takes place between four and five years old.
They make a range of vocalizations. These include a low grunt or high pitched squeak though often they are silent. When alarmed they let out their breath with a loud huff.
When swimming the eyes and ears of the pygmy hippo will close over to prevent water entry.
Pygmy hippos are primarily nocturnal. Most of the day is spent submerged in the water.
They spend most of the year alone and only come together to mate.
Predators and Threats
Few predators are capable of taking down pygmy hippos. The main threats are the leopard and the Nile crocodile. Young may be preyed upon by African golden cats, African civets and African rock pythons.
To deter predators they will yawn at potential predators to show their large teeth and scare them off. They may also rear or lunge at a predator. They are shy and prepare to flee rather than fight.
The population of pymgy hippos is estimated to be as low as 3,000. The suffer from habitat loss and hunting for the bushmeat trade.
The closet relative of hippos is whales.
A tire mogul who owned a rubber plantation in Liberia presented a pygmy hippo to US President Calvin Coolidge. This hippo was housed at a zoo in the US and most pygmy hippos now housed in the country are somewhat related to him.
Pygmy hippos were not known to western science until the 1840s.
The name hippo comes from the greek words for ‘river horse.’
In African folklore it is believed that the pygmy hippo carries a diamond its mouth to light their path and if you catch on at night you can take the diamond.
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