Pygmy hippopotamus in exhibit

Pygmy Hippopotamus

Scientific Name

Choeropsis liberiensis

Geographic Range

West Africa

Diet

Ferns, tender roots, grasses, herbs, stems, leaves, vines, vegetables, and fallen fruit
Pygmy hippopotamus in exhibit
IUCN Conservation Status: ENDANGERED IUCN Conservation Status: ENDANGERED

About This Animal

Pygmy hippos look like smaller or juvenile versions of their relatives, the common or river hippopotamus, and are closely related to cetaceans—but are a distinct species within their own genus. They weigh up to 600 pounds, 10 times less than common hippos. They also differ in that they have feet that are less webbed and a single set of incisor teeth. Their thin skin is greenish-black, which keeps them cool, but doesn’t help with hydration. So, the skin also oozes out a pink liquid called blood sweat that protects them from sunburn. This makes them appear shiny and wet.

Pygmy hippos are solitary and secretive, except for females staying close to their young. They are most active from late afternoon to around midnight and feed for around six hours a day. They’re also more terrestrial than common hippos, although they do hide in swamps and wallow in water. Although generally silent, the hippos may squeak and grunt to communicate.

The timing of the wild breeding season is currently unknown, although newborns are observed more in the dry season between November and January. Hippos generally have one infant on land after a gestation of 188 days. Young are weaned after six to eight months and become sexually mature between three and five years of age.

The population of pygmy hippos is hard to determine because of pygmy hippos’ secretive behavior, but researchers tend to think their already-small numbers are declining. As they inhabit lowland forests near bodies of water and prefer small streams with dense ground vegetation, deforestation is the primary threat to their continued existence. They are also affected by the bushmeat trade.

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We cooperate with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to manage the zoo population of this species through a Species Survival Plan®.

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