Occurs in West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast).
The name hippopotamus derives from the Greek for 'river horse', and is a particularly apt description for the pygmy hippo, which spends much of its time resting in rivers or swamps.
The common hippo, and it’s less well-known relative, the pygmy hippo were formerly believed to be most closely related to pigs or peccaries. However, recent genetic studies have revealed that their closest living relatives are in fact whales. The two groups diverged during the Eocene (around 54 million years ago).
The skin of the pygmy hippo contains special pores that secrete a white or pinkish substance known as “blood-sweat”. This material is thick, oily and protective in nature, allowing the animals to remain in water or in a dry atmosphere on land for extended periods.
Pygmy hippos feature in many folktales. One suggests that the pygmy hippo finds its way through the forest at night by carrying a diamond in its mouth, which lights its path. The hippo is said to hide the diamond by day where it cannot be found. According to folklore, if a hunter is lucky enough to catch one at night, the diamond can be taken.
The range of the pygmy hippopotamus is severely fragmented, and is continuing to decline in area, extent and quality as a result of logging, farming and human settlement.
The species is under increasing pressure from bushmeat hunters as the forests become smaller and more accessible. Although pygmy hippos are unlikely to be the main target of subsistence hunting, they are taken opportunistically by the hunters, and this is likely to be impacting upon the remaining small, isolated populations.
National and international conflicts in eastern Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are also likely to be having a negative effect on the species.
EDGE aims to determine the population size and distribution of the pygmy hippopotamus in Sapo National Park in Liberia.
The pygmy hippopotamus has a severely fragmented distribution and is under increasing pressure from logging, farming and human settlement. The latest data suggest that only 2,000-3,000 individuals remain in the wild, mostly concentrated in Liberia and Sierra Leone. There has been little action to protect pygmy hippo habitat or populations. According to the IUCN/SSC Hippo Specialist Subgroup, unless effective protection or conservation actions are taken, the viability of this species should be considered extremely poor. Focused conservation attention on via populations in secure regions is strongly recommended. One of the most important surviving populations of pygmy hippos is thought to survive in Sapo National Park, Liberia.
EDGE researchers in collaboration with Flora and Fauna International (FFI) and a Liberian EDGE Fellow will gather extensive data on the population and distribution of pygmy hippos and other threatened species in Sapo National Park. The main threats facing pygmy hippos in and around the park will be assessed, and the information used to develop a comprehensive Conservation Action Plan for the Sapo population. Education and awareness activities will be arranged for local communities, informing people of the pygmy hippo and its conservation importance.
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