African Pygmy Hippo

Did you know the spine of the African pygmy hippo is slanted so it can charge through rainforest? The African Pygmy hippopotamus, also known as Choeropsis liberiensis, or Hexaprotodon liberiensis is a small nocturnal hippopotamid. It is native to the forests and swamps of West Africa, predominantly in Liberia and some parts of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.

A subspecies of pygmy hippos once existed in the Niger-delta part of Nigeria, but this is now believed to be extinct as there have not been sightings for decades in the region.

The African Pygmy Hippo (Genus: Hexaprotodon) is a cousin to the common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) or Nile hippopotamus, which is noticeably larger, and has a larger population, among other traits, we will delve into.

Pygmy Hippopotamus Vs Common Hippopotamus

The African pygmy hippo has some importantly different physical features to its more corpulent name sake: the common hippo. Whereas the common hippo has eyes on top of its head, which can be used like a submarine periscope, for peering above water, the pygmy hippo has eyes on the side of its head, which are adapted to see predators approaching in the rainforests or on the savannah.

Although the African pygmy shares similar physical features like its special pink skin for example, with the hippopotamus amphibius, the African pygmy is different in height, weight, and a few adapted physical characteristics.

An adult African pigmy hippo is half as tall as the hippopotamus. It weighs less than 1/4 of a full-sized hippopotamus. A typical adult pygmy hippo is 70-80 cm high at the shoulder and is 150–175 cm in length. It weighs between 180–275 kg.

Meanwhile, an infant pygmy hippo weighs ranges between 4.5 to 6.4 kg. African pygmy hippos have a graviportal skeleton, with four seemingly stubby legs and four toes on each foot, though in comparison with its cousin the legs are slightly longer and thinner which allows it to pick up speed when charging through forest. Unlike its larger namesake the toes are not webbed, which helps it navigate through rainforest.

The African pygmy hippo’s legs and neck are proportionally longer while its head is smaller in relation to its body mass. Also, the African pygmy skeleton is gracile, thus it’s back slopes forward. This is an adaptation, feature that allows it to pass more easily through dense forest vegetation.

The skin on this shy vegetarian, is usually greenish-black, or brown, blending to a creamy gray and pink on the lower body. Their skin has a thin epidermis over a dermis that is several centimeters thick.

Habitat of the Pygmy Hippo

The African pygmy hippo is semiaquatic; that’s why it’s typically found in a swamps. It depends on water to keep its skin moist and body temperature coo as hippos don’t sweat. Pygmy hippos can perfectly carry out reproduction activities like mating and giving birth in water or on land. They are mostly used to more terrestrial life than their big cousins, commonly inhabiting thick forests.

Interestingly, they live longer in captivity than in the wild. Pygmy hippos lifespans in captivity could be between 30 to 55 years. The African pygmy hippos possess some features that make it easier for them to survive in water than some other even-toed ungulates (bear weight on two out of four toes).

The ears and nostrils of pygmy hippos have adapted muscular valves that can be opened and closed at will to aid submerging underwater. These features enable them to spend long periods submerged, hiding from predators if they feel the need.

Map of Pygmy Hippos Habitat in Africa
Map of Pygmy Hippos Habitat in Africa

Diet of the Pygmy Hippo

African pygmy hippos don’t consume much aquatic vegetation and rarely eat grass. They spend about six hours, daily, foraging for food. Most of the African pygmy hippo’s diet consists of ferns, broad-leaved plants, shoots, and fallen fruit. They mainly eat any plants available and are on the whole herbivorous.

Behavior and Habits

African pygmy hippos are reclusive, secretive, and nocturnal. They often ignore each other rather than seek conflicts. However, females can move in small groups. For fear of being prey on, African pigmy hippos spend most of the day hidden in rivers, typically emerging at dusk to eat. They can rest in a particular spot for several days in a row before moving to new territory.

African Pygmy Hippo – Longer legs, eyes on the side of the head

Empty river bank burrows make convenient dens for this elusive animal. They are so elusive, only recently with camera trap technology, have their lives been documented. Like elephants, their habits in the forest help maintain the upkeep of forests with dispersal of seeds and pruning of the undergrowth.

Predators of the Pygmy Hippo

African pygmy hippos are at risk of being prey upon by leopards, crocodiles, African rock python, African golden cats, and African civet. They are also illegally hunted by men because The African Pygmy hippo meat is more palatable than the common bigger hippos. This makes them reclusive and huge results in their decimation.

Conservation of the Pygmy Hippo

African pygmy hippos are highly threatened by poaching, deforestation, natural predators, and loss of habitats. This makes them an endangered animal. According to the World Conservation Union, fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos are remaining in the wild.

ICUN Red Flag Status
ICUN Red Flag Status

They are now conserved in zoos. Basel Zoo in Switzerland coordinates a captive pygmy hippo population that freely breeds in zoos worldwide. African pygmy hippos are more likely to survive in the zoo than in the wild.

However, Liberia is helping protect the pygmy hippo in the wild by designating Wonegizi, as a protected area located in Lofa, which is soon due to be legally assigned as a Multiple Use Reserve. Wonegizi provides a safe corridor for wildlife between Guinea and Liberia, as well as being home to the elusive, rare hippo.

The pygmy hippo filmed from a camera trap in Wonegizi proposed protected area, Liberia

Reproduction of the Pygmy Hippo

The African pygmy hippopotamus becomes sexually mature between three and five years of age. The youngest reported age for giving birth is a pygmy hippo in the Zoo Basel, Switzerland which bore a calf at three years and three months. The female African pygmy hippo oestrus cycle lasts an average of 35.5 days, with the oestrus itself lasting between 24 to 48 hours. The calves typically remain with the mother until weaning, hiding near the water as the mother leaves to forage food. The weaning often happens between six and eight months of age.

Pygmy hippos consort for mating. They typically breed as monogamous pairs. Their mating and giving birth can occur on land or in the water, unlike the common hippos that copulate and give birth only on water. Also, a mating pair of pygmy hippo usually copulates one to four times during an oestrus period. African pygmy hippos can conceive and be born in all months of the year. The gestation period is between190–210 days, and usually, a single young is born, though twins are known to occur.

It takes between six and eight months of age for baby African pygmy hippos to wean entirely. Before weaning, baby pygmy hippos do not accompany their mother. Whenever their mother leaves the water to search for food, the baby pygmy hippos hide in the water by themselves. The mother returns to the hiding spot three times a day and calls out for the calf to suckle.

African Pygmy Hippo – Often Solitary

Fantastic Facts About the African Pygmy Hippo

  • Pygmy Hippos can rest in a particular spot for days.
  • African folklore says they can put out forest fires with their sweat and eat the remaining charcoal
  • They secrete hipposudoric acid, known as “blood sweat.” It is believed to have antiseptic and sunscreen properties.
  • African pygmy hippos, like normal hippopotamus’ skin, dries out quickly and cracks. This explains why they spend a lot of time in mud pools.
  • Young African pygmy hippos can swim almost immediately after birth.
  • When out of water, they mark their trails, by waving their tail while defecating to spread their feces further.
  • There are more male African Pigmy Hippos than females.

Q & A About the Pygmy Hippo

  1. Are pygmy hippos nocturnal?

Yes, mostly, pygmy hippos are nocturnal.

How can I help the conservation of pygmy hippos?

You can help pygmy hippos conservation at the website

How can the pygmy hippo be conserved in the wild?

The pygmy hippo can be helped with the designation of protected areas, free from logging and hunting.

What family does the pygmy hippo belong to?

The African pygmy hippo belongs to the family of Hippopotamidae

Are pygmy hippos dangerous?

Pygmy hippos can be dangerous when territorial, even in captivity.

Does a pygmy hippo have the same teeth as its cousin ?

The pygmy hippo only has one pair of incisors, while the hippo has two or three.

How does a pygmy hippo scare predators?

The pygmy hippos has an intimidating mouth which it gapes to scare predators

What are male pygmy hippos called?

Male pygmy hippos are called bulls.

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