Pygmy Hippo

Pygmy Hippo

Pygmy hippopotamus, Pygmy hippo

Choeropsis liberiensis
Population size
Life Span
30-50 yrs
Top speed
30 km/h
180-275 kg
75-100 cm
150-175 cm

The pygmy hippopotamus or pygmy hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis ) is a small hippopotamid which is native to the forests and swamps of West Africa, primarily in Liberia, with small populations in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. It has been extirpated from Nigeria.

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The pygmy hippo is reclusive and nocturnal. It is one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae, the other being its much larger relative, the common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius ) or Nile hippopotamus. The pygmy hippopotamus displays many terrestrial adaptations, but like the hippo, it is semiaquatic and relies on water to keep its skin moist and its body temperature cool. Behaviors such as mating and giving birth may occur in water or on land. The pygmy hippo is herbivorous, feeding on ferns, broad-leaved plants, grasses, and fruits it finds in the forests.

A rare nocturnal forest creature, the pygmy hippopotamus is a difficult animal to study in the wild.Pygmy hippos were unknown outside West Africa until the 19th century. Introduced to zoos in the early 20th century, they breed well in captivity and the vast majority of research is derived from zoo specimens. The survival of the species in captivity is more assured than in the wild; in a 2015 assessment, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that fewer than 2,500 pygmy hippos remain in the wild.

Pygmy hippos are primarily threatened by loss of habitat, as forests are logged and converted to farm land, and are also vulnerable to poaching, hunting for bushmeat, natural predators, and war. Pygmy hippos are among the species illegally hunted for food in Liberia.

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Pygmy hippos are rarely found, easily recognizable, and huge mammals that have always had a relatively small overall population. These animals are closely related to the hippopotamus, inhabiting West Africa. Pygmy hippos compose a separate class of animals. Like the hippopotamus, they are semi-aquatic creatures, although they spend a considerable part of their time on the ground. A constant source of water is a vital life condition for Pygmy hippos since it prevents their skin from drying and helps them control body temperature.



The natural range of this species covers West Africa, including countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. Within this territory, Pygmy hippos inhabit tropical lowland forests with dense cover close to rivers, streams and, swamps.

Pygmy Hippo habitat map

Climate zones

Pygmy Hippo habitat map
Pygmy Hippo
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Habits and Lifestyle

Pygmy hippos tend to lead a solitary life, avoiding conspecifics. When encountering each other in the wild, hippos usually ignore one another. Each individual defends its territory through fecal marking. These mammals socialize only during the mating season as well as when rearing their offspring. They generally exhibit nocturnal activity, being most active from the late afternoon to midnight. They spend around 6 out of 24 hours per day feeding. The daytime hours are spent resting in the water or on the river bank. Pygmy hippos sleep on the ground, typically in caves of burrows. Each site is used for only a few days since these hippos change their sleeping quarters once or twice a week. Although normally silent, they may sometimes give out snorting, grunting, hissing, and squeaking sounds.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Pygmy hippos are strictly herbivorous animals. Their diet consists of herbs, broad-leaved plants, grasses, semi-aquatic plants, herbaceous shoots, forbs, sedges, ferns as well as occasionally fallen fruits.

Mating Habits

year-round in captivity
184-210 days
1 calf
6-8 months

Pygmy hippos in captivity are known to exhibit a monogamous mating system, where each individual has only one mate. Those in the wild are thought to be polygynous since the territory of each male overlaps with these of multiple females. Some researchers suggest that Pygmy hippos are polygynandrous (promiscuous) with both males and females breeding with multiple mates. Captive Pygmy hippos do not have a specific breeding season but instead can mate at any time of the year. Individuals breed once every 7-9 months. A single baby is born after 184-210 days of gestation. The newborn hippo lives alone as the mother forages, visiting to suckle the baby 3 times a day. The calf is weaned at 6-8 months old and is reproductively mature at 3-5 years of age.


Population threats

Pygmy hippos are currently threatened by a number of factors, which negatively affect the small population of this endangered species. To mention just a few, deforestation, hunting, development agriculture and civil conflicts are among serious threats to these animals. Although Pygmy hippos are legally protected throughout their range, the total population is decreasing due to scarcity or the absence of suitable resources.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the population number of Pygmy hippos is around 2,000-2,499 mature individuals. According to the Pygmy Hippo Foundation resource, the total population of this species in the wild is about 2,000 individuals, the majority of which live in Liberia and the rest inhabit Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. Currently, Pygmy hippos are classified as Endangered (EN) and their numbers continue to decrease.

Ecological niche

The ecological niche of this species is insufficiently explored, although Pygmy hippos are likely to impact plant communities of their range through their plant-based diet.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Pygmy hippos exhibit excellent swimming abilities. When they dive, the species muscular valves in their ears and nostrils close off.
  • These mammals possess a four-chambered stomach. However, they are not true ruminants and hence ferment food and use microbes in a different way than true ruminants. Additionally, Pygmy hippos never chew their cud.
  • Each individual of this species can consume as much as 100-150 pounds of grass per night.
  • Pygmy hippos are noticeably smaller than the Common hippos. Hence, when a specimen of this species was found, some scientists considered it a stunted or juvenile Common hippo. However, in 1911, Schomburgk brought five specimens to Europe, and the Pygmy hippos were recognized as a separate species.
  • "Hippopotamus" is a Greek word, meaning a "river horse".
  • An adult individual of this species can dive for as long as 5-6 minutes at a time.
  • The feet of these mammals are slightly fused, allowing them to walk along bottoms of rivers as well as ascend slippery river banks.


1. Pygmy Hippo Wikipedia article -
2. Pygmy Hippo on The IUCN Red List site -

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