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Pygmy Hippopotamus

Choeropsis liberiensis


The pygmy hippo is the smaller, reclusive and nocturnal cousin to the more widely known common hippo.

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.

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, to catch one a night, the diamond can be taken.

The species has a severely fragmented distribution and is under increasing pressure from logging, farming, hunting, and human settlement. The small isolated Nigerian population is thought to be extinct as there have been no confirmed reports of this distinct subspecies for decades, although unofficial reports from local people provide some encouragement that they may still exist.

There are only two species of hippos, both members of the Hippopotamidae family, but in two separate genera. The pygmy hippo is the sole extant member of its genus. Despite resembling pigs, and tapirs, their closest living relatives are actually the cetaceans; whales and dolphins. The ancestors of both whales and hippos were small water-loving terrestrial mammals that lived 50-60 million years ago. These groups diverged during the Eocene (around 54 million years ago) into the early cetaceans, which became completely aquatic, and a large and diverse group of pig-like terrestrial mammals known as anthracotheres.

  • Order: Cetartiodactyla
  • Family: Hippopotamidae
  • Population: Unknown
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 1.5-1.75m
  • Weight: 160-270kg
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


The species has a discontinuous distribution in western Africa. The largest populations of H. l. liberiensis are in Liberia. Smaller populations occur in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast, primarily in regions bordering Liberia.The pygmy hippo’s range does not overlap with that of the common hippopotamus

Habitat and Ecology

Pygmy hippos’ are nocturnal and solitary, living in lowland primary and secondary forests close to rivers, streams and palm tree swamps. They feed on terrestrial and semi-aquatic plants.

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This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Crops Mining Hunting Logging Wars

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Pygmy Hippo Monitoring in Sapo National Park

  • Locations: Sapo National Park, Liberia
  • Active dates: 2005 - 2012
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Conserving the Pygmy Hippo in Sierra Leone

  • Locations: Loma Mountain, Sierra Leone
  • Active dates: 2007 - 2012
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John Konie

  • Project name: Constructing the evidence base to monitor the pygmy hippo (Hexaprotodon liberiensis) in Sapo National Park, Liberia
  • Project site: Sapo National Park, Sinoe, Liberia
  • Active: 2008 - 2009
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