Pygmy Hippopotamus: Habitat & Facts

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the pygmy hippopotamus, a distinct species from the common hippo. You will learn about their habitat, as well as some interesting facts.

The Pygmy Hippo

For a number of different species, there are 'pygmy' versions. There are pygmy rattlesnakes, pygmy marmosets, and pygmy goats, to name a few. However, these 'pygmy' animals aren't just small versions of the other species. For example, the pygmy hippopotamus is a distinct species, separate from the common hippopotamus. It is true, though, that the pygmy hippo is much smaller than the common hippo, which is how the pygmy hippo got its name.

Pygmy hippos have a number of differences from common hippos beyond size. They have longer legs, spend less time in the water, and have less webbing on their toes. They are also much more rare. The scientific name for this species is Choeropsis liberiensis.


Pygmy hippos have a small range, and are only found in the interior portions (away from the coast) of West Africa. They are more common in Liberia than anywhere else.

This species prefers forested areas, and they live near streams, rivers, or swamps. Though they may spend more time on land than common hippos, they do spend much of the day either in the streams or rivers, or in a wallow (a mud pit).

Sometimes in the afternoon, and almost always at night, they leave the water and go forage for food on land. They live in highly vegetated areas partly because they eat a variety of plants, and partly because this provides cover for the babies. Mothers leave their babies hidden while they forage for food.

Pygmy hippos can sometimes be found in pairs.
Pygmy hippo pair

Interesting Facts

Pygmy hippos are rarely seen because they are mostly nocturnal, meaning they come out at night, and they are very shy and secretive. As a result, not very much is known about how they behave in the wild. Most of the information we have on them comes from pygmy hippos that live in captivity. Pygmy hippos are listed as endangered, but breeding programs in zoos have so far been very successful.

Physical Traits

Pygmy hippos have thin, smooth skin that helps them stay cool in the rainforest. Unfortunately, skin like this can burn easily in direct sunlight. The pygmy hippo, therefore, produces a pink fluid called blood sweat, which coats the skin and keeps it from burning. That's why they always look a little wet.

This small species is only about one-tenth the size of the common hippo. They also have narrower, rounder faces, and only one set of the sharp front teeth known as incisors. Common hippos have two sets.

Group Behavior

Pygmy hippos typically live alone, but they can be found in pairs or even in small family groups. Even if they are living alone, they are not usually aggressive when they run into other pygmy hippos. Instead, they mostly ignore each other.

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