Pygmy hippopotamus

Secrete a red substance through their skin to protect them from extreme sunlight, creating the myth that they sweat blood

Chris Phutully

Pygmy hippopotamus


Secrete a red substance through their skin to protect them from extreme sunlight, creating the myth that they sweat blood

Population 2,500
75% estimated population loss since 2008

A smaller and lesser-known relative of the common hippopotamus, it is a fascinating creature that calls the dense forests of West Africa its home. Unlike its larger cousin, the pygmy hippo leads a more terrestrial lifestyle, although it still relies heavily on water for hydration and skin protection.

Physically, the pygmy hippopotamus is distinctively smaller than the common hippopotamus, but it shares many of the same features, such as a barrel-shaped body, large mouth, and nearly hairless skin. Adult pygmy hippos typically weigh between 180 to 275 kilograms (400 to 600 pounds), a stark contrast to the up to 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of their larger counterparts. Their skin is adapted to live in water-rich environments, secreting a natural sunscreen that also acts as an antiseptic, protecting the animal from infections and sun damage.

The behavior of the pygmy hippopotamus is marked by its nocturnal activity patterns. These animals are solitary by nature, spending the day hidden in the dense vegetation of their forest habitat and emerging at night to feed. Their diet consists primarily of ferns, broad-leaved plants, fruits, and other vegetation found in the forest, contributing to their role as seed dispersers and influencers of vegetation patterns in their ecosystem.

The habitat of the pygmy hippopotamus is restricted to the tropical forests of West Africa, including countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. These environments provide the dense cover and water sources that pygmy hippos require for survival. However, the very specificity of their habitat needs makes them particularly vulnerable to environmental changes and human activities.

Conservation efforts for the pygmy hippopotamus are urgently needed. With an estimated population of less than 3,000 individuals, the species has been classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


Population est.
Côte D’ivoire
Official estimate
Extinct locally
Sierra Leone

Did you know?

  • The entire wild population size is unknown. The population was assessed to be “a few thousand at most” in the 1993 IUCN Status Survey and Action Plan.
  • There had been no pygmy hippopotamus in Cyprus (a historic part of the range) for about 10,000 years, but pygmy hippopotamus bones with cut marks and human hunting equipment were recently unearthed in Limassol’s Aetokremnos, indicating that people may have hunted them to extinction.
  • Although there is no solid proof to support it, there are still reports/rumors of pygmy hippos in the Outamba-Kilimi National Park in northwest Sierra Leone.
  • Pygmy hippo’s ranging patterns, home range size, and territoriality are poorly studied. For the wild populations, no precise information on reproduction, including breeding season, has been published yet.
  • The biggest threat to pygmy hippos is deforestation, as forests within their historical habitat have been steadily cleared for farming and plantations. Mining and other related activities further fragmented forests, making them more accessible to hunters and leading to local extinction.
  • The pygmy hippo is a herbivore with a slow metabolic rate, their stomach is four-chambered, but they are non-ruminant.
  • The pygmy hippo is believed to be more of an intermediate forager and browser, consuming fallen fruit, leaves, herbs, roots, aquatic plants, ferns, and tubers; grass makes up a very small amount of their diet.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No