In The Wild
Pygmy hippos (Hexaprotodon liberiensis) are native to West Africa, with the largest population in Liberia. They live in dense forests near rivers and streams. They are good swimmers and have muscular valves that close their ears and nostrils when submerged.
As the name suggests, the pygmy hippo is far smaller than the common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), and are either solitary or live in small family units. They have large and extremely sharp teeth, which they use for protection. Hippopotami have extremely high rates of water loss (three to five times the rate in man) which is due to their unique skin structure; this explains why they must spend the day in water.
Pygmy hippos are herbivores. They uproot swamp plants which they bite with their lips and crush hard fruit with their teeth and strip leaves from shrubs and trees. They also eat leaves and grasses. After a gestation period of around 6 months, the female hippo will give birth to a single calf. For the first few weeks, the calf is hidden in bushes as it cannot walk very far. Pygmy hippo calves do not instinctively know how to swim – their mother teaches them how to do this. Mothers defend their calf aggressively and they stay together for at least two years.
Pygmy hippos are facing very serious threats in the wild. Populations are declining rapidly due to habitat destruction caused by logging, farming and human settlement. Pressures from wars in the hippos’ native range are another dire threat. Sadly, pygmy hippos are also increasingly being threatened by bushmeat hunters.