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Tiny Hippo is Big News for Zoo Basel

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It's been 14 years since a baby Pygmy Hippopotamus was last born at Basel Zoo in Switzerland. Baby Lani came into the world on March 18, when it was still a little cold for her outside. Now, she joins her mother, nine year-old Ashaki, in the zoo's outdoor enclosure on warm, sunny days. Lani is one of about 135 Pygmy Hippopotamuses in the European Endangered Species Programme and is the seventy-fourth baby hippo to be born at Basel Zoo.

Lani was born early in the morning and the animal keepers were able to observe the quick, trouble-free birth. The bright-eyed youngster was nursing within an hour. When she was born, Lani was the size of a rabbit and weighed about 11.5 pounds (5.2 kg). Since then she has been put on the scales every day. Her weight gain offers information about whether she is nursing regularly. At the last measurement she weighed in at already more than 35 pounds (16 kg). Mother Ashaki currently weighs around 440 pounds (200 kg).

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5 hippoPhoto credit: Zoo Basel

For the present, Ashaki and Lani can only be seen in the outdoor enclosure between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm on warm, sunny days, alternating with the males. The water is still very chilly and the little one should not be allowed to get cold. Lani likes to hide in the bushes, so zoo visitors currently need a little luck and patience if they wish to spot her.

Lani has been very active from the start and mother Ashaki provides her with exemplary care. The little one has now begun to show some interest in solid food and nibbles on leaves. 

See and read more after the fold.

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The birth of Lani was particularly happy news at Zoo Basel. Pygmy Hippos are endangered in the wild, and the last time offspring was born (in 2000) the baby sadly did not survive. The last Pygmy Hippo to grow up at Basel Zoo was born in 1997 and now lives at Cabarceno Zoo in Spain. 

Before Ashaki became pregnant, the Pygmy Hippo enclosure was altered to be more like their wild  habitat, with more wallowing areas and hiding places. Ashaki and Aldo, who previously displayed a mutual dislike, slowly get to know each other through a fence with the patient help of the animal keeper. This was followed by a few barrier-free meetings which soon ended in mating.

Mother Ashaki came to Basel Zoo from Singapore in 2008. She is descended from wild Pygmy Hippos which have no descendants in Europe, making her a genetically valuable asset for breeding. The baby’s father is seven year-old Aldo who also came to Basel in 2008. The pair continued to get on well after mating and could be seen using the outdoor and indoor enclosures together. However, following Lani’s birth, the zoo chose to err on the side of caution, as Pygmy Hippopotamuses are actually solitary creatures in the wild and the father is not involved in raising offspring.

Basel Zoo has been running the Pygmy Hippopotamus international stud book since 1975 and has coordinated the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for Pygmy Hippos since 1992. An EEP is almost like a dating agency for zoo animals: zoos seeking Pygmy Hippos or who have them contact the EEP, and the EEP allocates available animals to the zoos. To prevent hereditary diseases, pairs are formed with unrelated animals. Familial relationships are recorded in the stud book. 

Pygmy Hippos are severely endangered. They live in the rainforests of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Until very recently these countries were dominated by political unrest and instability, which is why only very few researchers and conservationists have become involved there. Basel Zoo donates around 17,000 Swiss francs per year to support a conservation project established by international nature conservation organizations in Sierra Leone.