Endangered pygmy hippo born at San Diego Zoo


Mabel, a 4-year-old pygmy hippo, has given birth to her first calf. Photo: San Diego Zoo

A big announcement from the San Diego Zoo – there’s a new pygmy hippo calf!


On April 9, Mabel, a 4-year-old pygmy hippopotamus at the San Diego Zoo, gave birth to her first calf. It weighed 12.4 pounds and is the first successful pygmy hippo birth at the Zoo in more than 30 years. The baby has not yet been named.


Mabel gave birth to the calf in an indoor habitat for pygmy hippos, located in the Lost Forest area of the Zoo. Typically, a pygmy hippo calf is tucked into a safe place before it begins to walk and follow its mother. Wildlife care specialists report that the calf walked and followed Mabel around within just a few hours of being born. Mom and calf are doing very well, they said — and the calf is nursing and getting lots of attention from the first-time mother.


The new baby hippo hasn't been named yet. Photo: San Diego Zoo

Pygmy hippos are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and live in rivers and streams in the forests of West Africa. While their historic range was much larger, pygmy hippos are now found in only four countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Fewer than 2,500 pygmy hippos now remain in Africa, and the primary threats to this species’ population are logging, farming and human settlement in the areas where this species lives.


The pygmy hippo calf is meeting and surpassing the milestones that wildlife care specialists watch for in a young pygmy hippo, including the ability to go underwater. To prepare the calf for exploring in the water, wildlife care specialists placed a small, shallow tub in the indoor habitat. When mom and her calf were given access to the outdoor maternity habitat, staff added a fence to prevent the calf from venturing into too-deep water.


The calf demonstrated the natural adaptations and instincts of pygmy hippos—to close their nostrils and to hold their breath under water—and today, both Mabel and the calf have full access to the pool in the maternity yard.


The pygmy hippo is related to the river hippopotamus, but is a different species. While they may look similar, they share few characteristics. A river hippo may weigh up to 10 times more than a pygmy hippo and can be more than twice as large—and pygmy hippos spend more time on land than in the water and are predominately nocturnal.


Pygmy hippos are one of hundreds of endangered species the staff at San Diego Zoo Global is working to protect from extinction. For more info, visit www.sandiegozoo.org.

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