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How Fauna & Flora is helping save the rare, endangered pygmy hippo

It weighs just a tenth of its more familiar cousin and is half the length – and it is believed there are no more than 3,000 of them left in the world.

The pygmy hippo is in trouble and in need of help.

Pygmy hippo in camera trap, Liberia. Picture: Fauna & Flora
Pygmy hippo in camera trap, Liberia. Picture: Fauna & Flora

Now Cambridge-based Fauna & Flora – the world’s oldest conservation charity – has helped put together a national action plan outlining a clear strategy for its survival in tropical West Africa.

Pygmy hippos are officially classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, though the exact numbers are difficult to establish because their secretive habits – and rarity – make them very difficult to count.

Nocturnal, elusive and mainly solitary, they are confined to a dwindling number of viable sites in tropical West Africa where they inhabit deep forest.

Pygmy hippo. Picture: Tim Knight
Pygmy hippo. Picture: Tim Knight

They are very rarely seen, or even heard. Rotund, thick-necked and hairless, they spend the day hidden in rivers and swamps before emerging to feed at night.

They weigh in at about 250kg – roughly the same as a fully grown pig. By comparison, a common hippo weighs about 2.5 tonnes.

The vast majority of the world’s remaining pygmy hippos are found in Liberia, which is where Fauna & Flora is focusing its conservation efforts.

The main threats to pygmy hippos are habitat loss and hunting. Mining, logging, agricultural expansion and other forms of human encroachment have fragmented the remaining populations and left many of them living closer to people. This increases the threat level by exposing them to further disturbance or unsustainable levels of hunting for meat.

Fauna & Flora Liberia team setting up camera traps. Picture: Fauna & Flora
Fauna & Flora Liberia team setting up camera traps. Picture: Fauna & Flora

A nationwide reconnaissance survey has recently concluded – the first attempt to estimate Liberia’s total pygmy hippo population – focusing on the nation’s key biodiversity areas.

Camera traps set up by Fauna & Flora and partners captured the first ever footage of pygmy hippos in Liberia. Subsequent surveys have revealed that one of the project sites, Sapo National Park, is a crucial stronghold for the species, and eDNA surveys have detected their presence in river systems elsewhere in the country.

Having found them, the goal for the charity – based at the David Attenborough Building in central Cambridge – is now to save them.

Mary Molokwu-Odozi, Fauna & Flora’s country manager for Liberia, said: “The pygmy hippo is a flagship species for Liberia’s valuable forests and for the Upper Guinea Forest as a whole, which not only harbours a wealth of biodiversity and supports local livelihoods, but also stores vast amounts of carbon, thereby helping to reduce global emissions and combat climate change.”

The charity is seeking support to help fund its ongoing work.

Pygmy hippo caught on camera trap. Picture: Fauna & Flora
Pygmy hippo caught on camera trap. Picture: Fauna & Flora

“Through your donation, Fauna & Flora could train and equip new rangers, providing them with rucksacks, protective equipment and GPS units essential to patrolling Liberia’s forests,” said Mary.

“Your donation could also help purchase camera traps that allow us to keep a close eye on the secretive pygmy hippo, better understand their behaviour and maximise the impact of our efforts.”

Fauna & Flora is also collaborating on a landscape-level assessment to identify potential conservation corridors in south-east Liberia that would help to connect all remaining populations of the pygmy hippo. This is a central goal of the new 10-year pygmy hippo conservation strategy.

Click here to help save pygmy hippos from extinction.

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