dwarves are found in West Africa where they are now
a threatened species due to habitat destruction and
poaching. Pygmy Hippos weigh in at 250kg, which makes
a person wonder why they are called pygmies. In comparison
to the Nile hippopotamus, the pygmy hippo is small and
therefore deserving of their pygmy status.
Apart from being a lot smaller than the river hippo,
the pygmy hippo differs in other areas too. The Nile
hippo is a very social animal, living in groups of up
to 15 adults. The only times you will find two pygmy
hippos together is when they are either mating or when
you see a mother and a calf. Apart from being solitary
in nature, these dwarves are also very territorial with
males and females each having their own territories
which they will defend from other hippos. A female will
share her territory with her calf until the calf can fend for itself.
The Pygmy Hippo has a rather colourful and mysterious
history. Explorers and scientists never believed the
legend about a small hippo living on land. In 1911 Schomburgk
managed to capture five live specimens and took them
back to Europe. Only then did the Pygmy Hippo receive
the status of a distinct and existent species.
The name “hippopotamus” is derived from
two Greek words: hippos, which means horse, and potamus
meaning water. Strangely enough, the pygmy hippo prefers
dry land unlike its cousin the river hippo and
is adapted in various ways to cope with conditions on
land. It does not have webbed feet usually associated
with swimming but toes to help it
move around in vegetation.
There are currently less than 3 000 Pygmy Hippos left
in the wild. Due to deforestation their habitat has
shrunk considerably during the 20th century and even
more dramatically in the last 30 years. Hunting is also
proving to be a threat as hippo meat provides protein
to local people.
Today the Pygmy Hippo is listed on Appendix II of Cites
and classed as “Vulnerable”. National parks
provide the only habitat where these tiny hippos are
protected. Scientists at Sapo National Park in south eastern
Liberia are proposing that the park be declared a biosphere
reserve. Supported by funding from national and international
organizations such as Cango, these efforts may help the
pygmy hippo survive.
Eating water plants, fallen fruit and leaves, these
herbivores prefer tropical forests. What they might
lack in size, they make up for in heart. Our two Pygmy
Hippos, Herbert and Hilda, are cherished by everyone
on the ranch and it is quite funny to see grown caregivers
running through their enclosures in an effort to avoid Herbert
and Hilda’s wrath for entering their territory!