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Endangered Pygmy Hippo Born At San Diego Zoo

The male pygmy hippo calf was born at the San Diego Zoo to Mabel, a 4-year-ol...

Credit: San Diego Zoo

Above: The male pygmy hippo calf was born at the San Diego Zoo to Mabel, a 4-year-old pygmy hippopotamus, just before 9 a.m. on April 9, and weighed 12.4 pounds.

The San Diego Zoo Friday announced the birth of a pygmy hippopotamus, the first successful pygmy hippo birth at the zoo in more than 30 years.

Mabel, a 4-year-old pygmy hippopotamus at the zoo, gave birth to the 12.4-pound male pygmy hippo calf just before 9 a.m. on April 9. The zoo announced the birth Friday — National Endangered Species Day — because the calf has been deemed healthy by animal experts at the zoo.

Mabel gave birth to the calf in an indoor habitat for pygmy hippos, located in the Lost Forest area of the zoo. Wildlife care specialists report that the calf, which has not been named, stood, 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.

Pygmy hippos are listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, and live in rivers and streams in the forests of West Africa. While their historic range was once much larger, pygmy hippos are now found in only four countries: Cote 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 on Friday, both Mabel and the calf have full access to the pool in the maternity yard.

It will be approximately a month before Mabel and her calf, who now weighs 25 pounds, will have access to the main habitat. When this happens, wildlife care specialists will rotate mom and calf with the 13-year-old male pygmy hippo, Elgon. The calf will not be introduced to his father because pygmy hippos do not live in family groups, and males do not play a role in the rearing of offspring.

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.

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