Pygmy Hippopotamus


Description and biology

The pygmy hippopotamus is smaller and more piglike in appearance than its larger relative, the common hippopotamus. Its skin color is generally black, with a greenish tinge on the top of its back. Its belly is cream or yellow–gray.

Its eyes are on the side of its round head instead of on top as in the common hippo. An average pygmy hippo has a head and body length of 5 to 5.5 feet (1.5 to 1.7 meters) and a shoulder height of 30 to 39 inches (76 to 99 centimeters).

Its tail extends 6 inches (15 centimeters). It weighs between 355 and 600 pounds (161 and 272 kilograms). By contrast, an average common hippo weighs between 2,425 and 5,720 pounds (1,100 and 2,597 kilograms).

The pygmy hippo is a solitary animal, spending much of its time on the shore near swamps and rivers. It goes in the water only occasionally. Like the common hippo, the pygmy hippo has glands beneath its skin that secrete a pink, sweat–like substance.

This biological fact has inspired the myth that hippos “sweat blood.” This pink substance helps to regulate the hippo’s skin temperature. Because its skin is sensitive to the sun, the pygmy hippo seeks shelter during the day in thickets and other forested areas.

It feeds at night on leaves, shoots, grasses, roots, and fruits. Male and female pygmy hippos usually mate in the water at any time during the year. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 188 days, a female pygmy hippo gives birth to one calf. She then nurses that calf for eight months.

Habitat and current distribution

Pygmy hippos inhabit lowland forests. They are found in the tropical region of western Africa, primarily in the country of Liberia. Wildlife biologists (people who study living organisms) estimated that the pygmy hippo population in Liberia in the early 1980s was several thousand. No estimates have been made since then, but the population has almost certainly decreased.

History and conservation measures

Deforestation and hunting are the major threats to pygmy hippopotami. Africans hunt the animal and its larger relative for their meat and hides, which are used to make whips and shields. Very few conservation efforts exist for the pygmy hippopotamus. Between 350 and 400 pygmy hippos are held in captivity throughout the world.

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