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Animal Data > Pygmy Hippo

(Choeropsis liberiensis)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Vulnerable Restricted areas of lowland forest of West Africa 4 - 5 years
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
1 210 days 40 years

The common and pygmy hippos are the last surviving species of the family Hippopotamidae, whose ancestors once lived across Europe and Asia. Fossil remains of this family have been found in the Thames! The pygmy hippo is a shy, forest-dwelling species, which was first described scientifically in the 1840's. Many of the details of its life in the wild still remain to be discovered.

Although more terrestrial than its much larger relative, spending much of its time in swamps, the pygmy hippo is still well adapted to life in the water. Its stocky legs, each with 4 spreading toes, act as paddles, giving adequate propulsion in still waters. The tail is used as a rudder. Eyes, ears and nostrils are all positioned well up on the head, so the hippo can see, hear and breathe in comfort when its whole body is submerged. The thick, hairless hide is coated with a clear, sticky mucus, secreted from special glands. The fluid acts as a skin lubricant and sun screen.

Unlike common hippos, the pygmy hippo lives a solitary life, emerging from the cover of the forest to feed at night on aquatic plants, short grass, algae and leafy bushes. The two canine teeth protruding from the lower jaw play no part in feeding, but are used as weapons to ward off attackers or assert dominance.Births take place on land, and the whole process lasts only a few minutes. After about half an hour the calf is on its feet, ready to suckle. In time it learns to swim and to hold its breath, so it can then nurse under water.

Pygmy hippos have never been an abundant or widespread species, but hunting for food by local people and rapid destruction of their habitat by logging has reduced their numbers drastically.

Main Features

About the size of a large pig, round body and pillar-like legs.

In Captivity

Due to their attractiveness and rarity, pygmy hippos have long been popular zoo animals. Early breeding successes in Washington Zoo and Basel Zoo enabled zoos to stock only captive bred animals. There are now several hundred in captivity. The pair at Marwell has a pool to wallow in and a large paddock. Because of their solitary nature they are kept apart most of the time only being put together for mating.


©2009 Marwell Wildlife