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Facts about the Pygmy Hippopotamus

Sucheta Pradhan
The pygmy hippopotamus is one of only two extant hippopotamus species in the world. Here are a few facts about the lesser known pygmy hippopotamus, the cousin of a much larger common hippopotamus.

Fast Fact

Billy, a pygmy hippo, the common ancestor of most pygmy hippos in U.S. zoos, was presented to the U.S. President Calvin Coolidge by an American businessman in 1927. It was then donated to the National Zoo, Washington, D.C.
The pygmy hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon liberiensis, is a solitary and nocturnal species belonging to the Hippopotamidae family. These semi-aquatic creatures are herbivores in nature, and are believed to be more timid and calm than their larger cousins.
The pygmy hippopotamus is native to West Africa, predominantly to Liberia, however, some of them are also found in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast.
Interestingly, this creature was not known until the middle of the 19th century. In 1844, Dr. Samuel Morton of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia described it scientifically for the first time, on the basis of the skulls that he had found when he was living in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.
He found that this species of hippopotamus was much smaller than the common hippopotamus, and so he named it as Hippopotamus minor. However, in 1849, with more research conducted on the species and its distinctive characteristics recognized, it was renamed as Choeropsis liberiensis.
More researches were carried out on the pygmy hippo, and in 1977, it was found that it bore some striking similarities with the extinct species of the Hexaprotodon, some fossils of which have been discovered. Owing to this, it is now renamed as Hexaprotodon liberiensis. We, at Buzzle, have collected some facts about the pygmy hippopotamus.


➦ A pygmy hippo is either greenish-black or brown. Its skin secretes a highly alkaline substance, commonly described as 'blood-sweat' due to its reddish color. It is believed to possess some antibacterial and sunscreen-like properties.
➦ Much like their larger counterparts, they have a graviportal skeleton that can bear great weight and is adapted for slow terrestrial locomotion.
➦ Pygmy hippos weigh about 400-610 lbs, which is even less than 25% of the body weight of the common hippos.
➦ Their average height is around 2.46 - 2.72 ft and they are about 4.9 - 5.81 ft in length.
➦ In captivity, they can survive for about 30 to 55 years, however, their lifespan is believed to be much shorter in the wild.
➦ They bear a smaller head as compared to their neck and legs. This is probably an adaptive feature with respect to the dense vegetation of the forests.
➦ They are also proportionately thinner than the common hippopotamus, apart from being shorter.
➦ The orbits of their eyes and their nostrils are not as pronounced as those of the common hippos. This may be because they happen to spend much lesser time in deep waters than their cousins. However, their nostrils and ears have thick muscular valves, which help them breathe when they submerge underwater.
➦ Their toes are spread out to enable them to walk through the forest floor. They bear webbed feet, which aid them to move in water as well.


➦ The pygmy hippopotamus is found mainly in the forests and swamps of West Africa.
➦ Though the creature is adapted to terrestrial life in many ways, its semi-aquatic characteristics requires it to dwell in the vicinity of water bodies, to help moisten its skin and maintain proper level of its body temperature. Owing to this, it makes its burrow close to a freshwater body.
➦ It is interesting to note that the range of habitat of the pygmy hippo, in spite of being so closely related to the common hippo, does not overlap with it. The common hippo is usually found in grasslands, whereas the pygmy hippo is an inhabitant of the forests.


➦ Pygmy hippos either lead a solitary existence or live in pairs. Usually, either a mating pair or a mother and a calf are found staying together.
➦ Studies on their behavior have indicated that they are rather peace-loving creatures. Pygmy hippos prefer to ignore their enemies rather than fighting with them.
➦ During most of the day, they stay submerged in water. However, during the night, they emerge to feed on the forest vegetation.
➦ They can be seen resting on the same spot for several days in succession, before moving on to a new spot.
➦ Burrows of pygmy hippos are often found along river banks. But notably, they haven't been seen burrowing as yet.

Feeding Habits

➦ Pygmy hippos are essentially herbivores in nature. This, however, does not mean that they feed on any and every vegetation that they come across.
➦ They do not consume a lot of aquatic flora, and rarely feed on grass, if at all. Their main diet consists of fruits, which have fallen from trees, flowering plants with broad leaves, and ferns.
➦ Studies tell us that they spend as many as six hours a day in the forest, foraging for food.
➦ The way a pygmy hippopotamus finds its way back from the forests to its burrow is rather interesting. It tends to find its way through the wilderness by means of the trails left behind by other animals. It also marks its own trails by defecating as it moves through the forest floor, so that it can find its home.

Breeding Behavior

➦ The average age of maturity of a pygmy hippopotamus lies between three to five years.
➦ Not much is known about their breeding behavior in the wild. However, a considerable number of studies have been conducted on the ones in captivity.
➦ In captivity, pygmy hippos mate as monogamous pairs, one to four times during an estrous period. Also, they mate during any time of the year.
➦ The gestation period ranges anywhere between 190 to 210 days, and generally, a single calf is born. There have been some rare instances of twins as well.
➦ The pygmy hippopotamus can mate and give birth, both in water and on land, unlike their greater cousins, who mate only in water.
➦ The young pygmy hippos usually wean by the age of six to eight months, only after which they accompany their mother for foraging into the forest.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included the pygmy hippopotamus in their list of endangered species. According to the IUCN estimates, there are less than 3,000 pygmy hippos surviving in the wild today.
Loss of habitat, due to the shrinking of forests, is one of the major causes of concern with respect to the endangerment of these animals. Moreover, they are hunted on a largely for bush meat, which is considered to be of a very superior quality.
Pygmy hippopotamus is also likely to fall prey to animals such as crocodiles, pythons, and leopards, which further dwindles their population. However, fortunately enough, their population has been increasing in captivity since the past few years.