KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Mammalia (Mammals)
ORDER: Artiodactyla (Even-toed Ungulates)
FAMILY: Hippopotamidae (Hippopotamuses)
SUB-FAMILY: Hippopotaminae (Hippopotamuses)
GENUS: Choeropsis (Pygmy Hippo)
SPECIES: Choeropsis liberiensis (Pygmy Hippo)
Pygmy Hippopotamuses are endemic to West Africa. They only occur in four countries: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
Pygmy hippopotamuses have barrel shaped bodies and short, stumpy legs. They have large heads, broad mouths and nostrils at the top of their snouts. Their hairless skin is dark brown on top and fades to a lighter brown on the underside. They are only about half the size of a common hippopotamus.
These hippos prefer low-lying, forested areas with water sources. They use rivers, streams and swamps to escape from predators as well as keeping their skin moist.
Pygmy hippos are herbivores (plant-eaters). They will eat herbs, broad-leaved plants, grasses, semi-aquatic plants, herbaceous shoots, forbs, sedges, ferns, and fallen fruit. Although pygmy hippos have a four-chambered stomach, they don’t regurgitate their food to chew it again.
Pygmy hippos are mostly solitary animals. They are thought to actively avoid one another, using faecal markings to alert other hippos to their presence. When an encounter between two individuals does take place, they simply ignore each other.
Very little is known about the pygmy hippo’s breeding behaviour in the wild. In captivity, only monogamous breeding has been observed, however, this is unlikely in the wild, as several male and female territories overlap. In the breeding season, males seek out females and form consortships for a time prior to mating.
After a gestation period of about 6.5 months, a single calf is born. Unlike the common hippopotamus, pygmy hippos may give birth on land or in the water. Calves are weaned at about 6-8 months.
They will stay with their mothers up to the age of 8 years, when they become independent. Pygmy hippos will reach sexual maturity at about 3-5 years old. They can live up to 43 years.
Pygmy hippos are mainly preyed upon by leopards. Other potential predators include crocodiles and pythons.
The main threat to pygmy hippos is habitat loss due to deforestation. The forests in which pygmy hippos live have been subject to logging, settling and conversion to agriculture, with little efforts made to make logging sustainable. As forests shrink, pygmy hippo populations become more fragmented. They are also sometimes opportunistically hunted for bushmeat.
Did you know?
- Pygmy hippos can seal up their ears and nostrils to be water-tight
- They are primarily nocturnal animals
- The name hippopotamus derives from the Greek for ‘river horse’
- It is very difficult to tell males and females apart