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Endangered Species: Pygmy Hippopotamus

written by: Darlene Zagata•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 7/20/2009

Pygmy hippopotamuses resemble their larger relatives but there are several differences. Pygmy hippos are also related to pigs. These animals are endangered in the wild. One of the greatest threats to the pygmy hippo is a continued loss of habitat.

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    Features

    In some respects, the pygmy hippopotamus resembles a pig more than the larger hippos. They weigh approximately 350 to 550 pounds. Pygmy hippos are semi-aquatic animals with smooth, hairless skin that is dark brown to black in color. They have broad heads with small ears. Their ears and nostrils close when submerged in water to prevent water from entering them.

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    Habitat and Diet

    Pygmy hippopotamuses are native primarily to forests and swamp areas of west Africa. They are primarily nocturnal animals, resting during the day and emerging at night to feed. Pygmy hippos are herbivores. Their diet consists of various forms of vegetations such as roots, leaves, fruit and grasses. Pygmy hippopotamuses have multi-chambered stomachs although they do not chew cud.

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    Breeding

    Although male pygmy hippos may fight for access to females they are not generally territorial. Pygmy hippopotamuses reach maturity at approximately 4 years of age. They can breed in or out of water. Females give birth to a single calf after a gestation period of approximately seven months. The calf can swim almost immediately after birth. Calves are weaned at approximately six to eight months of age. Pygmy hippopotamuses breed well in captivity. The lifespan of a pygmy hippopotamus is estimated between thirty to fifty years.

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    Conservation Status

    The conservation status of the pygmy hippopotamus is listed as vulnerable but the species is at an increased risk of becoming endangered in West Africa. The status is critically endangered in Nigeria. It is estimated that there may be only a few thousand of them left in the wild. Although they are hunted for their meat, loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats to the population of pygmy hippopotamuses. Loss of forest habitat has forced the population to become splintered leading to a limited gene pool for reproduction. Although adult pygmy hippopotamuses have no natural predators, they are capable of killed by leopards, crocodiles and pythons.

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    Preservation

    Although the pygmy hippopotamus has been bred successfully in captivity, the animals are facing an uncertain viability in the wild. More action is required to protect this species and its habitat in order to ensure its continued survival. The population of the pygmy hippopotamus species has decreased and continues to do so in the light of human settlement and deforestation. Whether or not the vulnerability of this species will become certain endangerment remains uncertain.