OK, Pygmy Hippos are really cute. Well, baby pygmy hippos are really cute. And that’s kind of strange considering it looks like the morph of a pig and a hippo. I mean, piglets are cute, but grown pigs are certainly not the easiest thing on the eyes. And hippos, well, they’re just odd looking. But the pygmy hippo got the best of both worlds, and they are really interesting creatures when you take a look at their adaptations.
Just take a look at the photo above of a pygmy hippo that was born just last month at Zoo Miami. She doesn’t have a name yet, but zookeepers are doing an online poll to determine the public’s favorite. Options include: “Nzuri,” which means beautiful; “Nyumbani,” which means home; “Leona,” in reference to Sierra Leone; and “Asali,” which means honey. Anyway, this little pigskin is about the size of a football (OK, silly pun), and her birth is kind of a big deal. Pygmy hippos are really rare, especially outside of Liberia in West Africa. There are only a few thousand remaining in the wild, although researchers don’t know exactly how many. It’s the first pygmy hippo birth at Zoo Miami in more than 20 years.
In terms of ecology and social behavior, pygmy hippos are much more like pigs, but they are undoubtedly all hippo when you look at their physical traits and muscular makeup. They are much smaller than Nile hippos, weighing between 500 and 700 pounds, instead of an astronomical 8,000 pounds. They are also more of a loner species, usually hanging out alone. If you ever see them in pairs (what are you doing in Liberia?), it’s likely a male and female waiting to mate. Pygmy hippos are much more terrestrial than Nile hippos, shown by the adaptation of having little webbing between their “toes,” which means their feet don’t serve as oar-like propellers, but instead give them more secure footing on land. They have longer limbs and a longer neck, with a much smaller head than Nile hippos.
Like the Nile hippo, however, they produce a white secretion that moistens the skin, and if overexposed to sunlight, they can suffer skin damage. While pygmy hippos are mostly terrestrial, they are very good swimmers, with strong muscular valves that close their ears and nostrils when under water.
Unfortunately, they are on the verge of becoming extinct (which is why I should adopt one, but I think my dog would protest). The primary threat to their survival is deforestation and hunting, as they are often killed to prevent damaging gardens alongside the rivers in West Africa. While researchers guess the Nigerian population is extinct, the Sarpo National Park in Liberia provides a suitable habitat for the pygmy hippo, providing some hope for their future survival! Until the next time a status update is done, researchers can only try to continue examining the differences between the Nile hippo and the pygmy hippo and the adaptations that make it so unique.
Meanwhile, I’m going to go vote for the name “Nzuri.”