Ranked 21st on the EDGE Mammal conservation priority list, the pygmy hippo is also one of our focal species for conservation action. The lesser-known of the two extant hippopotamus species, the pygmy hippo is also less common and has a smaller range, and is listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Standing just 1 metre tall, the pygmy hippopotamus is significantly shorted than its larger cousin, and is also much lighter, at less than 1/5th of the weight of the common hippo.
The family Hippopotamidae diverged from their closest relatvies, the whales and dolphins, approximately 60 million years ago, so the two remaining hippo species in the group represent an incredible amount of evolutionary history.
The pygmy hippo is now only found in a series of fragmented populations across West Africa, in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Sub-populations in Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau are almost certainly extinct.
In 1993 the global population was estimated at 2,000 – 3,000 individuals. However, continuing habitat loss and reports of hunting suggest that the population will have declined since this estimate, and these factors remain the major threats to the pygmy hippo.
EDGE is working to help monitor and protect the remaining wild populations, and to raise awareness of the extinction risk to the pygmy hippo. In January 2008 we led the establishment of a monitoring programme in Liberia’s Sapo National Park, using infra red camera traps to survey pygmy hippos and sympatric species. We are now supporting EDGE Fellow John Konie to continue management of the project.
Konie was working as a biologist at Sapo for the Liberian Forestry Development Authority (but has since been promoted to Chief Park Warden) and was trained by ZSL staff in using camera traps as a biodiversity monitoring technique. We continue to support Konie, giving him both technical advice and financial help to continue the monitoring programme, providing valuable data that feeds into the management of the protected area.
The camera trap survey quickly presented the first known photographs of wild pygmy hippos in Liberia which featured in news stories worldwide, helping to raise awareness of this little-known threatened species. These images were also shown to the Liberian President, Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was reportedly excited by the findings and has since visited Sapo and showed support for good management of the National Park and the survival of the pygmy hippo.
EDGE has now teamed up with ZSL’s Africa conservation programme, and together we plan to expand our pygmy hippo conservation work throughout the species’ range, working with local and international partners to produce a range-wide conservation strategy for this species. We hope that this will guarantee the survival of this extraordinary but underappreciated hippo.