Hodor the hippo in the pool at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Did you know, the word hippopotamus comes from the Ancient Greek meaning 'river horse'? At Whipsnade, we're lucky enough to be home to two species of hippo: the common hippo and the pygmy hippo. 

Fun fact: Hippos have very sensitive skin, which easily becomes dry and cracked. They can actually make their own 'sunscreen', which they secrete through their skin to keep it moist and protect them from the sun's rays. 

Hodor the hippo at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Our common hippo family 

Our hippo family is made up of:

  • Hodor who was born in July 2017 and named after the loveable gentle giant from Game of Thrones. He's a cheeky chap who loves to chase any ducks who are brave enough to enter his paddock. But don't worry, he's never quick enough to catch them!
  • Mum Lola

Common hippo facts

  • Common hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) are originally from west and east central Africa.
  • They are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and populations are sadly in decline due to threats including hunting and habitat loss. 


Our pygmy hippo

Our pygmy hippo, Tapon, celebrated his 14th birthday in November 2019. He's a cheeky chap who loves a back stratch, but isn’t a fan of mornings. He might be small, but has a BIG personality and can be very stubborn. He likes to do everything in his own time - or as his keepers say, 'Tapon time'. His favourite foods include banana leaves, cabbage and Marmite!

Pygmy hippo facts 

  • Pygmy hippos (Choeropsis liberiensis) are found in West Africa and live in forests near water and are shy and reclusive compared to the more greagrious and social common hippo.
  • They spend much of their day in the water which helps to keep them cool and protect their skin from the sun in hot climates.
  • Pygmy hippos are Endangered in the wild, with threats including deforestation and hunting. 
  • Learn more about ZSL's pygmy hippo conservation

Hippo differences

Apart from the obvious difference in size, pygmy hippos are far more adapted to a land-dwelling lifestyle compared to common hippos: 

  Common hippo Pygmy Hippo
Population Around 130,000 across Africa Around 3,000 in a few countries in West Africa
Weight Up to 3000 kg Up to 300 kg
Lifestyle Lives in groups of 10-30 in rivers and lakes Lives alone in swamps, streams and dense forest
Feet Webbed toes for wallowing in water Well-separated toes for trudging through mud
Nose Nostrils on top to stick out of river for easy breathing Less prominent nostrils as spends more time on land

Look out for our hippos when you next visit the Zoo - and we'd love to see your photos of our hippo family! Share them with us on social media using #ZooLife. 

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Hoover the hippo at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo


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Pygmy hippo Tapon celebrates his birthday at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Pygmy hippo, Tapon, celebrated his 14th birthday on Monday 11 November 2019

Baby hippo Hodor with mum Lola

Say hello to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's latest arrival, Hodor the baby hippopotamus, who was born on 21 July 2017