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Pygmy hippos

Scientific name: Choeropsis liberiensis

Country: Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone

Continent: Africa

Diet: Grass - graminivore, herbs - forbivore, fallen fruits - frugivore

Food & feeding: Herbivore

Habitats: Fresh water, tropical rainforest

Conservation status: Endangered

Relatives: Common hippopotamus

Description: Much smaller than the common hippopotamus, 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 skin is hairless and sensitive to the sun, but is kept supple and moisturised by a fluid that oozes from glands all over the skin. This gives the pygmy hippo a glossy sheen all over. Adults stand about 0.75m high and weigh up to 275 kg.

Lifestyle: Most of the day is spent resting in ponds, swamps and rivers, soaking in water in order to keep their skin healthy, but at night they emerge and wander along channels in swamps and into forests, feeding on lush waterside vegetation.

Family & friends: They are mainly solitary, but occasionally they are found in pairs.

Keeping in touch: Pygmy hippos are usually quiet but they can make a range of snorting and grunting sounds. These sounds probably travel well through the dense vegetation in which they live.

Growing up: 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 4.5 and 6.2 kgs 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. The mother encourages the young to move on at two years, when she may have another calf. Calves are able to breed for themselves by the age of four to five years. In captivity their lifespan is about 30 years.

Pygmy hippos were thought to sweat blood. The clear fluid that oozes continuously from glands on the surface of the hippo's skin can look reddish in colour in certain conditions, as it picks up the reddish brown colour of the skin itself. Early explorers thought that the skin of these animals was covered in blood - that the hippo must be sweating blood.

Conservation news: The pygmy hippo is threatened in the wild - where it is thought less than 2,000 of these animals survive. This figure is uncertain as civil war has made assessment very difficult. 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.