To strip a tree of its young shoots, wild pygmy hippos would start at a twig’s base and pull it through the mouth like a leafy kebab, shaking the head throughout. They’d also stand on their hind legs to feed on ferns growing within palms. In Liberia, they are known to be partial to a small, vine-like herb known as ‘Deewinkon’. Sweet potato leaves, okra, cassava and rice seedlings from farms at the forest edge are eaten. In Sierra Leone, they also take fish from traps.
The dung trail
As an adaptation to their highly-fibrous diet, pygmy hippos have a four-chambered stomach with the first three responsible for microbial breakdown of plant matter. Both males and females use their dung to mark out their territory. Their droppings are scattered through vigorous wagging of their tail during defecation or heaped alongside forest trails. They follow these well-defined trails or tunnel-like paths through the forest and swamp vegetation.
Pygmy hippos have greyish-black skin, which is smooth and thin to help them stay cool in the humid rainforest. But this also means they dehydrate quickly in the sun. On hot days, they survive the heat by staying in the water. They have no sweat glands but their skin secretes a pink fluid that looks like beads of sweat. This mucous fluid is sometimes called “blood sweat” because of its colour. It works like built-in sunscreen to protect their sensitive skin, giving them a shiny, wet, appearance.
Together, we protect wildlife
To maintain a healthy population of pygmy hippos under human care, there is a need to enhance and diversify their gene pool, so as to ensure healthy and viable offspring are produced. To date, we have sent more than 24 pygmy hippos to zoos around the world to participate in global breeding programmes.