Pygmy Hippos

A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo

ZSL London Zoo's two pygmy hippos, Thug and Nicky, have a plush pad to enjoy.

Nicky the Pygmy Hippo at ZSL London Zoo

There’s nothing pygmy hippos love more than having plenty of sleep and long soaks in warm water. Their enclosure has been equipped with solar panels to make sure their hippo pond is always a nice temperature, ensuring these lovely hippos stay nice and warm all year long.

Thug and Nicky will be joining up with the other animals in Into Africa. Just like the giraffes, okapi, and warthogs, pygmy hippos hail from Africa. In fact, pygmy hippos are very rare animals and can only be found in West Africa.

A map of where pygmy hippos live in the world. 

A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo

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A pygmy hippo teeth cleaning at ZSL London Zoo


Born: Aalborg zoo 16/05/1996

Weight: 316kg

Likes: Having his teeth cleaned, carrots and clover

Dislikes: Bananas and onions

Contrary to his name, Thug is a gentle soul who loves nothing more than to swim and sleep. When he’s not indulging in a relaxing soak, Thug can’t resist chasing Nicky around! However, Thug’s soft side means that most of the time it’s Nicky who’s calling the shots in their hippo home.

A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo


Born: Rome zoo 16/02/1995

Weight: 226kg

Likes: Eating willow branches and clover

Dislikes: Bananas

Nicky, also known as Nicky Noo to some, is a very cheeky and inquisitive pygmy hippo. She can’t resist keeping an eye on her keepers, which means she often tries sneaks up on them. Like Thug, Nicky loves wallowing, sleeping and swimming. When she came to the zoo Nicky was thought to be a male hippo and was called Nicoli!

How to tell them apart

Nicky is the smaller of the two, with a less hairy tail and less bulky neck. Thug, for a Pygmy Hippo, is quite big and is therefore the tallest of the pair. He is also longer and wider than his mate. Try and see if you can spot the differences when you visit!

A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo

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Want to know the key differences between Pygmy hippos and their large cousins? Here are some ways to sort between your common hippos and pygmys.


A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo

Pygmy Hippo

Population: Only around 3000 in a few countries in West Africa

Weight: up to 300 kg

Lifestyle: Lives alone in swamps, streams and dense forest

Feet: Well-separated toes for trudging through mud

Nose: Less prominent nostrils as spends more time on land


Common Hippopotamus at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Common Hippo

Population: Around 130,000 across Africa

Weight: Up to 3000 kg

Lifestyle: Lives in groups of 10-30 in rivers and lakes

Feet: Webbed toes for wallowing in water

Nose: Nostrils on top to stick out of river for easy breathing

A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo

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It is estimated that there could be less that 2000 pygmy hippos left in the wild, with a Nigerian subspecies already believed to be extinct. In the wild, pygmy hippos come under threat from hunting and habitat loss. Many populations of hippos have become fragmented due to logging, mining, farming and other human activity. As pygmy hippos are forced to engage with local communities, they come under more and more danger from extinction.

Pygmy Hippo caught in camera trap

In 2007 ZSL’s EDGE of Existence Programme recognised pygmy hippos as a priority for conservation. Since then, ZSL has been working in Liberia and Sierra Leone, trying to work towards protecting what remains of the wild pygmy hippo population.

In the field, ZSL carries out vital research into pygmy hippo ecology, distribution and behaviour. We also work with local communities and government wildlife authorities to protect them. Alongside this, ZSL London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo are part of a captive breeding program and in 2010 produced the IUCN SSC Regional Pygmy Hippo Conservation Strategy.

To learn more about ZSL’s conservation work, you can visit our project page. You can also visit the EDGE website and learn just what makes the pygmy hippo such an important animal to preserve. If you feel inspired by the work that you see, don’t forget that you can donate to ZSL and raise funds for future and current conservation projects.

A pygmy hippo at ZSL London Zoo

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