Pygmy Hippo

Pygmy Hippo

[ Hexaprotodon liberiensis ]

Quick Facts

HEIGHT: 3 feet
WEIGHT: 400 to 600 pounds 
WILD DIET: Herbivore; shoots, leaves, roots, grass, fallen fruit
ZOO DIET: Fruits, vegetables, alfalfa hay, grass hay
DISTRIBUTION: West Africa: Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone
HABITAT: Swampy forests


Bigger Relatives
Pygmy hippos look like smaller versions of common or Nile hippos, which can weigh up to 2 tons. Pygmy hippos can weigh up to 600 lbs. and have proportionally longer legs, which are useful for running through the forest. They are more terrestrial than common hippos. Although their neck is longer, their head is smaller in relation to their body. They are good swimmers and instinctively, they are able to close their nose and ears underwater.

Habits for Survival
Cool, calm, and collected. This describes the pygmy hippo’s personality. During the day, their main objective is to relax and stay cool. They prefer to rest until the coolness of the evening is inviting enough for grazing. As herbivores, their sustenance comes from shoots, leaves, grass, and fallen fruit. Mainly solitary creatures, and only coming together to breed, they are known to mark their favorite paths through the forest. They do this by muck spreading, which is done by wagging their tail while defecating, effectively spreading dung around.

When they do come in contact with others, they are most likely to avoid each other. While mating, they communicate with snorts and grunts. On your next visit, look out for what appears to be a yawn. When hippos open their mouth wide and show their teeth, it is usually a defense position, although at the zoo, it may also be part of their training.

The Secret to Supple Skin
These hippos like to give themselves the royal treatment. Because of their sensitivity to the sun, they don’t step out much in the day and if they do, they tend to stay moist by taking a dip in a swamp or river. Also, they have a built-in moisturizer as an added protection. Their glands secrete a whitish fluid that helps protect and moisten their skin. Perhaps you have seen them glistening in the sun here at the Pachyderm yard. At one point in history, people thought they were sweating blood. The secretion can look somewhat reddish in color, either because of their skin color or because of the intensity of the activity causing them to sweat, such as mating.

Numbers are Shrinking
These fascinating and mostly solitary mammals are currently listed as endangered. Unfortunately, human activity has not been kind to hippos’ natural habitats and it is rare to see them in their natural habitat. Currently, there are only about 2,000 or fewer left in the wild. Due to the timber industry, forest habitats are being destroyed. While hippos are fleeing their homes, they also face the danger of being hunted for their meat and their teeth, which are considered trophies. Other human activities, such as civil wars, interrupt their solitary lives in the forests of West Africa.

The Future of Hippos at Brookfield Zoo
Currently, two female pygmy hippos live here at Pachyderm House, Obesa and Adelle. Obesa came to us in 1989 from Zurich, Switzerland where she was born in 1988. Adelle was born in 1976. Because of their tendency to be alone, you will not see them together. Pgymy hippos are on the list of top 100 EDGE species (Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered). In the future, through the Species Survival Plan (SSP), genetically diverse hippos will be selected to live here to breed.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society