Skip to content
Pygmy hippo. © Edwin Giesbers / Nature Picture Library

Pygmy hippo. © Edwin Giesbers / Nature Picture Library

Pygmy hippo

Half-pint hippo


The hippopotamus is surely among the most familiar – and most conspicuous – of Africa’s megafauna. Its pocket-sized relative, the pygmy hippo, is an entirely different matter. Confined to a dwindling number of suitable sites in West Africa, pygmy hippos continue to decline dramatically in number, due mainly to habitat loss and hunting. 

Nocturnal, elusive and mainly solitary, these denizens of the deep forest are very rarely seen, or even heard. Rotund, thick-necked and hairless, pygmy hippos spend the day hidden in rivers and swamps before emerging to feed at night. 

Don’t be misled by the name. Pygmy hippos still top the scales at a hefty 250 kilos. That’s roughly the same as a fully grown pig. Nevertheless, they are dwarfed by their colossal cousins. Nose to tail, the pygmy hippo is half the length of its more common counterpart, but the real difference is in bulk; the common hippo weighs ten times as much as the pygmy hippo. 

Fascinating facts about pygmy hippos

    Shiny, happy hippos

    Pygmy hippos derive their glossy sheen from the tiny mucus glands that pock-mark their skin. 

    Pygmy hippo. © Adobe Stock

    Pygmy hippo. © Adobe Stock

    Little and large

    Proportionately, pygmy hippos have a much smaller head than common hippos. 

    Keep cool

    A pygmy hippo’s skin is susceptible to sunburn and dehydration. 

    Pygmy hippo mum and baby. © Helen / Adobe Stock

    Pygmy hippo mum and baby. © Helen / Adobe Stock

    Six months

    How long a baby pygmy hippo is suckled by its mother.

    Quiet, please

    Pygmy hippos in the wild are mainly silent. 

What do pygmy hippos eat? 

Pygmy hippos tunnel through thick riverside vegetation under cover of darkness to reach more open areas where they feed on a variety of grasses, leaves and roots of herbaceous plants, and fallen fruit. They eat vegetation by clamping it firmly between their wide jaws and tearing off mouthfuls using their strong lips.

Baby pygmy hippo. © Cyril Ruoso / Nature Picture Library

Baby pygmy hippo. © Cyril Ruoso / Nature Picture Library

A pygmy hippo calf sticks close to its mother.

Where do pygmy hippos live? 

Pygmy hippos inhabit forested watercourses and swamps in tropical West Africa. The vast bulk – in both senses – of the world’s remaining pygmy hippos are found in Liberia, although smaller populations still survive across the border in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone. A subspecies formerly found in Nigeria is now thought to be extinct.

How many pygmy hippos are left? 

No one knows exactly how many pygmy hippos are left in the wild. That’s mainly because their secretive habits – and their rarity – make them very difficult to count. The best guess of the experts is that no more than 3,000 pygmy hippos remain in the wild today. Pygmy hippos are officially classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Why are pygmy hippos endangered?

Deforestation as a result of mining, logging, agricultural expansion and other forms of human encroachment has fragmented the remaining population and left many of them living closer to people. This increases the threat to pygmy hippos by exposing them to further disturbance or unsustainable levels of hunting for meat.

Signs of deforestation alongside a river in Liberia. © Josh Kempinski / Fauna & Flora

Signs of deforestation alongside a river in Liberia. © Josh Kempinski / Fauna & Flora

Signs of deforestation alongside a river in Liberia.

Looking for clues

A camera-trap survey set up by Fauna & Flora and partners captured the first ever footage of pygmy hippos in Liberia. Subsequent surveys have taken snapshots of the species at both our project sites, while recent field surveys have recorded footprints, faeces and feeding signs. Data collected by Fauna & Flora suggest that Sapo National Park is a crucial stronghold for the species, with a density unrivalled throughout this hippo’s restricted range. Elsewhere in Liberia, state-of-the-art eDNA surveys are revealing the presence of pygmy hippos in other river systems. 

Pygmy hippo. © Fauna & Flora / Bucknell University

Pygmy hippo. © Fauna & Flora / Bucknell University

A pygmy hippo photographed during one of our camera-trap surveys in Sapo National Park.

Help for hippos

More help is on its way for the endangered pygmy hippo. Fauna & Flora has helped put together a national action plan for the species, which outlines clear strategies for its conservation. A nationwide reconnaissance survey is now underway – the first attempt to estimate Liberia’s total pygmy hippo population – focusing on Liberia’s key biodiversity areas. 

Hippo corridors 

We have also collaborated on a landscape-level assessment to identify potential conservation corridors in south-east Liberia that would benefit from increased protection – with particular emphasis on suitable pygmy hippo habitat. A central goal of the new ten-year pygmy hippo conservation strategy is to secure connectivity between all known populations of the species. 

Forest flagship

The pygmy hippo is a flagship species for Liberia’s valuable forests and for the Upper Guinea Forest as a whole, which not only harbours a wealth of biodiversity and supports local livelihoods, but also stores vast amounts of carbon, thereby helping to reduce global emissions and combat climate change. 

Our work to protect the reclusive and neglected pygmy hippo is an integral part of Fauna & Flora’s wider conservation efforts to safeguard threatened species and habitats across our project sites in West Africa, which are vital for biodiversity and for the future of our planet. 

Rainforest of Sapo National Park. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Rainforest of Sapo National Park. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

As well as providing a vital haven for the pygmy hippo and other wildlife, Liberia's precious forests support community livelihoods and store huge quantities of carbon.

Pygmy hippo portrait. © Adobe Stock

More than just a pretty face

Pygmy hippos play a crucial role in their forest landscape. Please donate today and help us to protect them.

Together, we can save nature. 

Help save pygmy hippos

Pygmy hippo portrait. © Adobe Stock