Pygmy hippo conservation

Pygmy Hippo

The pygmy hippopotamus, or pygmy hippo, Choeropsis liberiensis, is an endangered mammal of high conservation concern endemic to the threatened Upper Guinea forest hotspot of West Africa. ZSL is working in the field and in our zoos to protect the remaining populations.

ZSL's EDGE of Existence Programme identified pygmy hippos as a priority for conservation in 2007, and since then, ZSL have worked to conserve them in Liberia’s Sapo National Park and Loma Mountains in Sierra Leone. We carry out research to understand pygmy hippo ecology, distribution and behaviour and work with local communities and government wildlife authorities to protect them. ZSL London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo also carry out captive breeding of these animals. ZSL led the production of the IUCN SSC Regional Pygmy Hippo Conservation Strategy in 2010.

Why we are there

A 1993 population estimate suggested that only 2000-3000 pygmy hippo individuals still existed, and their numbers are likely to have declined since then. They are classified as Endangered on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. A distinct pygmy hippo subspecies (C. liberiensis heslopi) that once existed in Nigeria has most probably gone extinct. These declines result from habitat loss and hunting. The fragmentation and destruction of the pygmy hippo's forest habitat due to logging, mining, agrobusiness expansion and farming activities have brought pygmy hippos into closer contact with humans and as a result they are at much greater risk of being hunted and disturbed by human activities.

Key achievements and goals

ZSL has pioneered in situ conservation of pygmy hippos in Liberia since 2008, in collaboration with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA). Because the pygmy hippo is so poorly known, we have carried out surveys of where they exist and threats to their populations, using methods such as camera trapping. In 2008 ZSL and our partners obtained the first photos of pygmy hippos in the country. In November 2010, ZSL held the first ‘International Pygmy Hippo Conservation Strategy Planning Workshop’ in Liberia and produced a regional conservation strategy under the umbrella of the IUCN SSC Hippo Specialist Group. The strategy articulated the vision, goal, objectives and actions required for in situ conservation of pygmy hippos. Also in 2010 ZSL began working with a team from Njala University in Sierra Leone to research and protect a population of pygmy hippos around Loma Mountain in northern Sierra Leone.

Project information

Key species

The pygmy hippopotamus, Choeropsis liberiensis is a shy inhabitant of the Upper Guinea Forest ecosystem of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. With only about 2000-3000 individuals remaining, the pygmy hippo is classified as Endangered on the 2010 IUCN Red List, as well as being an Evolutionarily Distinct Species.

People involved

  • Chris Ransom is the project manager at ZSL

Partners & sponsors

  • Partners: Fauna and Flora International; Liberian Forestry Development Authority; Njala University; Conservation and Wildlife Management Unit, Forestry Division, Sierra Leone
  • Sponsors: IUCN; Mohammed bin Zayed Species Fund; USFWS; SeaWorld/Busch Gardens; Attica Zoo; Aalborg Zoo; Zoo Basel; Gaia Zoo; Tierpark Chemnitz; Fundacion Bioparc.