A rare pygmy hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon liberensis,
was thought to be extinct up until recently, after this image was
captured at night by a photo trap set up by researchers in a Liberian rainforest.
A team of zoologists set up a series of camera traps in a west African rainforest to determine whether the rare pygmy hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon liberensis, still survives, despite wars, habitat degradation and poaching in the area. After a three-day wait, they were pleasantly surprised to find that these secretive animals are alive!
"We were delighted to discover that a population still persists there, but remain highly concerned for the species, which continues to face significant threats from poaching and habitat degradation," said Ben Collen, a research fellow who led the effort on behalf of the Zoological Society of London.
The research team, which also included scientists from Flora and Fauna International and Liberia's Forestry Development Agency, specifically sought evidence of the diminutive hippo's continued existence. Liberia has experienced two civil wars, poaching for the bushmeat trade, and runaway logging of the rainforest, all of which could have ended this already rare species' presence on the planet.
The pygmy hippo is the much smaller cousin to the more familiar common hippo, but they can still grow to be quite large; reaching six feet in length and weighing as much as 300 pounds. They are solitary animals except during mating season. It is thought that fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos still survive, but after all the political and social upheavals in the region, this is likely an overestimate, which is one reason the zoologists are trying to learn more about them.
"The pygmy hippo is an extraordinary, mysterious creature that has almost never been seen in the wild," enthused Collen. "The ZSL's EDGE program identified it as a species in need of urgent conservation attention and so we set out to previously war-torn Liberia, one of the species' last refuges, to search for survivors."
Despite their size, these animals are difficult to see because they are primarily nocturnal, relying on dense rainforest to hide them as they move about through isolated rivers and swamps.
Pygmy hippo habitat consists of the dense Upper Guinean rainforest that is found in parts of Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and possibly also in parts of Guinea and Nigeria. However, logging has sharply reduced the forest's size, which does not bode well for the pygmy hippo.
"Only 10 per cent of the original Upper Guinean forest is left of which Liberia contains about 40 per cent. This new sighting gives us hope that, with a concerted effort, we can still protect the area's remaining biodiversity, including the charismatic pygmy hippo," said Stephen van der Mark, Senior Projects Manager Africa for Flora and Fauna International, which was part of the research team.
Perhaps I didn't read the story carefully enough. But nobody could have thought that Hexaprotodon liberensis was extinct, since there is at least one in the National Zoo in Washington, DC. I've seen it. It's an odd critter, with quite a different style of movement from that of its larger cousin.
Extinct in the wild, perhaps, which would be tragedy enough.