Pygmy hippos survive two civil wars
Monday 10 March 2008
Conservationists have discovered that the pygmy hippopotamus, currently classified as Endangered, is surviving in Liberia following two civil wars and devastating habitat degradation, and have amazing photographic evidence to prove it.
Led by Dr Ben Collen of ZSL and comprising a team from ZSL, Flora and Fauna International (FFI) and Liberia’s Forestry Development Agency (FDA), the team undertook extensive monitoring of Sapo National Park in Liberia to find the endangered pygmy hippopotamus, one of the most elusive and secretive large mammals on the planet. A network of camera traps were set up in Liberia’s only national park and astonishingly the traps’ first images of wild pygmy hippos were recorded within the first three days. The expedition was funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.
Your donations are urgently needed and will go directly to help support one of our EDGE projects. You can donate through the EDGE website
Dr Ben Collen, ZSL Research Fellow, commented, “The pygmy hippo is an extraordinary, mysterious creature that has almost never been seen in the wild. ZSL’s EDGE programme
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. 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.”
The camera traps will remain in place as part of an ongoing monitoring programme for the species. The information from the monitoring programme will be collated, together with information on threats to the species, to produce an accurate population estimate and conservation plan. Dr Collen added, ““Following two devastating civil wars, scientifically driven conservation action is essential to the continued survival of this highly threatened species”
Managing Director of the FDA, John T Woods, commented “I was pessimistic about the existence of the presence of the pygmy hippopotamus at Sapo, but these results only confirm the richness of the biodiversity of the Liberian forest. We can finally recognize and preserve the true worldwide biological value of Liberia’s forests.”
FFI Senior Projects Manager Africa Stephen van der Mark said “Liberia’s Upper Guinean forest ecosystem, where the pygmy hippo was photographed, is a major global conservation priority. Though unsustainable forestry and mining operations were especially devastating during the civil wars, they still pose a significant threat today. Only 10% of the original Upper Guinean forest is left of which Liberia contains about 40%. 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.”
Jill Nelson, CEO of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, added “New advances in camera trapping methods are at the cutting edge of monitoring development, making it possible to measure trends in the diversity, abundance and distribution of a broad range of terrestrial mammals and birds, including rare and elusive animals that have traditionally been difficult to study like the pygmy hippo. Camera trapping offers a non-intrusive, low cost and effective means of monitoring species at risk and we are proud of our involvement in underpinning such vital in situ conservation efforts.”
The pygmy hippopotamus (Hexaprotodon liberiensis) is a large mammal species whose closest living relatives, besides the common hippopotamus, are in fact whales. The pygmy hippo looks broadly similar to the common hippo, but is significantly smaller and does not exhibit the sexual dimorphism (the two sexes having notably different appearances) that is seen in the common hippo. The species is currently classified on the IUCN Red List as Endangered, with its rapid decline attributed to habitat degradation and bushmeat hunting. There are estimated to be fewer than 3,000 individuals left in the wild in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, but this estimate is likely to be inaccurate as so little is known about the species, there has been no recent census work and their habitat has been much degraded. Sapo National Park is identified by the IUCN as a vital area for the survival of the species. Pygmy hippopotami are kept successfully in captivity in a number of zoos across the world and ZSL London Zoo holds an adult male and female.
Liberia is a coastal West African country bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. Liberia has recently undergone two civil wars, one from 1989-1996, the other from 1999-2003; more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed.