Pygmy Hippo

Category: Wildlife

The pygmy hippo is one of only two species alive today in the family Hippopotamidae, the other being the common hippo. Pygmy hippos differ from their cousins in a number of ways. They are much smaller, less aquatic, and are active mostly at night.

Pygmy Hippo

Pygmy Hippo

Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Mammalia

Order – Artiodactyla

Family – Hippopotamidae

Genus - Choeropsis

Species – C. liberiensis

Common Name – Pygmy Hippopotamus, Pygmy Hippo


The pygmy hippo, at first, looks like a baby of the common hippopotamus. It has short, stumpy legs, a hefty body, and a wide fleshy snout. However, it has a more curved back than the common hippo, and its eyes and nostrils are less prominent. This is due to the pygmy hippo spending less time in the water, and thus not needing the prominent features that assist the common hippo in seeing and breathing in an aquatic environment.


Pygmy hippos breed every other year. Gestation lasts about 6 or 7 months, and females give birth to a single calf, usually in June or July. Much of what is known of pygmy hippo breeding is gleaned from captive animals, as no comprehensive research on reproduction in the wild has been conducted. Unlike common hippos which mate and give birth exclusively in the water, pygmy hippos engage in these behaviors on land as well as water.


The pygmy hippo inhabits rain forest swamps and rivers of the Ivory Coast and Liberia in Africa, where it feeds on roots, fruits and other vegetation. They live mostly solitary lives, spending their days resting in the water and becoming active at night when they forage for food on land.


The pygmy hippopotamus was little known in the western world prior to the 1800s. It was first described as a type of wild hog. Their secretive, reclusive nature and nocturnal habits meant they were rarely encountered or observed.

A pygmy hippo named Billy was given to President Cavin Coolidge in 1927 by Harvey Firestone, the founder of the Firestone tire company. The hippo was given to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and is believed to be the source for most pygmy hippos in the United States today.

Present Status

Pygmy hippos are endangered, primarily due to habitat loss. The rainforests they live in are being destroyed for many purposes, including logging and clearing land for farming. They are also hunted illegally for food.


  3. National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife; Alden, Estes, Achlitter, McBride, 1995