The pygmy hippo is a priority EDGE mammal endemic to the threatened Upper Guinea Forests biodiversity hotspot with fewer than 3,000 believed to remain in the wild. Yet little is known about the current distribution and threats to this species. A Pygmy Hippo Conservation Strategy, the first for the species, was developed in 2010 and this project is now implementing priority actions identified in this strategy. An ongoing distribution survey in Sierra Leone has already identified a significant population of pygmy hippos at the foot of Loma Mountains and the project is now working with local villagers to stop hunting and protect the remaining habitat.
Through the support of SOS the EDGE Programme has been able to provide support to two new EDGE Fellows from Njala University to establish a pygmy hippo research and conservation programme in Sierra Leone. The project has been able to purchase 15 camera traps and began carrying out surveys across the country. The first surveys have had exciting results, confirming the presence of a population of pygmy hippos in the waterways at the foot of Loma Mountain in the north of the country. This site was rumoured to be home to pygmy hippos but, until now, no one was aware how important this site might be for the conservation of this endangered species. These initial results suggest that this may be the most significant population of pygmy hippos in Sierra Leone, outside of the Gola Forests in the east of the country, and probably represent the northernmost population in their range.
This work has enabled the team to work with local villagers in the area who have hunted pygmy hippos in the past. Several ex-hunters have been hired to work on the project and trained in the use of camera traps, providing them with an alternative job to hunting. The work has also provided the opportunity for the team to talk with villagers explaining to them the importance of the pygmy hippo and that they are close to extinction. One village in particular has responded to this very positively and declared that there should be no hunting of pygmy hippos by anyone in the village and that no hunting at all take place in the areas where they are most numerous. We hope neighbouring villages will follow suit as we spend more time working with them.