Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The Pygmy Hippopotamus
The pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis) is a large mammal native to the forests and swamps of western Africa.
The evolution of the pygmy hippopotamus is most often studied in the context of its larger cousin. Both species were long believed to be most closely related to the family Suidae (pigs and hogs) or Tayassuidae (peccaries), but research within the last 10 years has determined that pygmy hippos and hippos are most closely related to cetaceans (whales and dolphins).The pygmy hippopotamus displays many terrestrial adaptations, but like its larger cousin, it is semi-aquatic and relies on proximity to water to keep its skin moisturized and its body temperature cool. Behaviours such as mating and giving birth may occur in water or on land. The pygmy hippo is herbivorous, feeding on whatever ferns, broad-leaved plants, grasses and fruits it finds in the forests.
A rare nocturnal forest creature, the pygmy hippopotamus is a difficult animal to study in the wild. Pygmy hippos were unknown outside of West Africa until the 19th century. Introduced to zoos in the early 20th century, they breed well in captivity and the vast majority of research is derived from zoo specimens. The survival of the species in captivity is more assured than in the wild: the World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild. Pygmy hippos are primarily threatened by loss of habitat, as forests are logged and converted to farm land, and are also vulnerable to poaching, hunting, natural predators and war.
The breeding success is Australia is imperative as pygmy hippos from other countries can not be brought to Australia due to the risks of Foot and Mouth disease. Thus, it is a great cause for celebration when, at Taronga Zoo, a youngster named ‘Monifa'(pictured), meaning ‘I am lucky' in Nigerian weighed just 3.8 kilograms when it was born in the early hours of October 15 to first-time mother, ‘Petre' and father ‘Timmy'. However after a difficult breach birth, the Zoo's dedicated keepers made the decision to intervene and hand-raise the precious female calf.
Click here to hear me chat with Renae Zammit, one of the keepers who literally moved into the Zoo to care for Monifa in alternate 24 hour shifts, sleeping at the Taronga Wildlife Hospital in order to feed and tend to the youngster's every need.
For more information, please visit www.taronga.org.au