A tiny baby Pygmy Hippo has been born at the Bristol Zoo Gardens in the UK. The youngster is three weeks old and joins parents Sirana and Nato in the Zoo’s Hippo House.
The calf, which is yet to be sexed, currently spends time exploring the exhibit and using the heated pool. To enable Nato and Sirana time to settle into their parenting duties, the hippos had remained off-exhibit, but the family can now be seen for brief periods of time at the Hippo House.
Lynsey Bugg, Bristol Zoo’s Assistant Curator of Mammals said, “The calf is looking very strong and it certainly feeds well. Like any youngster, it wants to be close to Mum at all times and is often seen by her side. It spends short periods of time in the water but is not quite as good at swimming as its parents, so we often see Mum, Sirana, guiding her little one back into the shallow water. Young hippos tire easily.”
The Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis or Hexaprotodon liberiensis) is threatened in the wild. In Liberia, destruction of forests surrounding the Sapo National Park by logging companies is damaging one of the few remaining strongholds for the Pygmy Hippo. Bristol Zoo Gardens is part of an international captive breeding programme for the Pygmy Hippo.
Lynsey continued, “The European programme is a well-established and very successful programme and our male, Nato, is a genetically important animal; by default, so will be his offspring.”
In the wild, females usually breed once every two years. A single youngster is born, after a gestation period of about six months. The baby weighs between four and six kilos (8 to 13 lbs.) and is unable to walk very far at first. Its mother conceals it in thick cover, visiting it to feed it. After three months it is able to feed on vegetation.
Pygmy Hippos are, as the name suggests, much smaller than the Common Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), with proportionally longer legs, a smaller head, less prominent eyes and ears more towards the side of the head. The Pygmy Hippo's nose and ears can be closed underwater, an adaptation to aquatic life.
The Pygmy Hippo is classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There were estimated to be about 2,000 left in the world a decade ago, when the last population survey was done. Since then, political unrest, habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking in their native habitats are likely to have reduced the wild population to critically low numbers.