Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Hippopotamidae
Size:    Height: 30 to 39 inches (76 to 91 cm) to shoulder  Length: 4.7 to 5.8 feet (1.4 to 1.8 m)
Weight: 350 to 600 pounds (159 to 281 kg)
Diet: Water plants, grass, leaves and fruit
Distribution: Western Africa
Young:  1 calf per year
Animal Predators:  Leopard
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
Terms: Female: Cow  Young: Calf 
Lifespan: Up to 42 years



·       This species is alternately known by some scientists as Hexaprotodon liberiensis.

·       The pygmy hippopotamus is featured on 13 postage stamps from countries such as Liberia, Congo, Togo, Tanzania, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

·       In 1994 Liberia issued a silver dollar that depicts the pygmy hippopotamus.

·       In 1927 a Liberian plantation owner sent U.S. President Calvin Coolidge a male pygmy hippo named Billy as a gift. Almost all pygmy hippos living in American zoos are descended from Billy.



Pygmy hippos resemble full-sized hippos, but pygmy hippos have rounder heads and their eyes are located on the sides of their head instead of on top. Like their larger relatives, they are susceptible to the sun’s rays and secrete sweat-like pink oil that protects their skin and keeps it from drying out. 



Pygmy hippos live in the tropical, dense rainforests of western Africa, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, near rivers and swamps. 


Feeding Habits

Pygmy hippos eat water plants, grass, leaves and fallen fruit. They sometimes reach fruit by standing on their hind legs and leaning their forelegs on the trunk of the tree. 



Because of their elusiveness, not much is known about pygmy hippos’ mating and child-rearing habits in the wild. Most of the information comes from observing captive animals in zoos. It is believed that the male seeks out a female, courting her for two to three days before initiating actual mating, which occurs in the water. The female then undergoes a six to eight-month pregnancy and gives birth to a calf weighing from seven to 14 pounds (3 to 6 kg). Mothers are extremely protective of their calves and keep them hidden when they are small to keep them safe from predators. Calves nurse for six to eight months. Pygmy hippos do not begin to reproduce until they are four to five years of age. 



Pygmy hippopotamuses are shy and elusive animals, so they were not discovered by the scientific community until 1849. Even so, many people did not believe they existed because none had been captured. It was not considered a distinct and existent species until 1911, when five live specimens were captured and brought to Europe. Pygmy hippos usually hide in the thick undergrowth found in tropical rainforests. They live both on land and in water, but spend less time in water than full-sized hippos, their only relatives. They sleep on land during the day, but wake up late afternoon or early evening to begin feeding. Unlike full-sized hippos, who are extremely gregarious and live in groups, pygmy hippos live solitary lives, rarely coming into contact with each other except during mating season. Although they have large, strong teeth, rather than stay and try to defend themselves when threatened, they usually flee to the forest, unlike full-sized hippos who head for the water when in danger. They are generally quiet animals, but are capable of vocalisations including snorts, grunts, groans and hisses. 



Deforestation within their range and hunting have put these animals in danger. It is estimated that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 pygmy hippos in the wild and their numbers are decreasing. The subspecies Hexaprotodon liberiensis heslopi is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. 



Pygmy Hippopotamus Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US