Rare pygmy hippos sighted in Liberia

16 March, 2008

In a finding that has cheered naturalists the world over, a group of rare pygmy hippopotamuses have been discovered in the forests of Liberia in western Africa.

A band of pygmy hippos, thought by many naturalists to be extinct, was spotted in Liberia’s Sapo National Park using special camera traps, BBC has reported.

Many conservationists have for long feared that destruction of forests, poaching and two civil wars could have annihilated the remaining population of pygmy hippopotamuses, a highly endangered species, in Liberia.

However, a team of researchers from the United Kingdom captured images of pygmy hippopotamuses just three days after setting up the monitoring gear.

British newspaper The Telegraph quoted Ben Collen, of the London Zoological Society, and one of the researchers, as saying, "We were delighted to discover that a population still persists there, but remain highly concerned for the species, which continues to face significant threats from poaching and habitat degradation. The pygmy hippo is an extraordinary, mysterious creature that has almost never been seen in the wild."

“What is more, Dr Collen added, “the images showed that the animals had survived the two civil wars which have occurred in the country. Following two devastating civil wars, scientifically driven conservation action is essential to the continued survival of this highly threatened species."

The International Animal Rescue, an organisation devoted to saving animals from suffering around the world, said on its website www.iar.org.uk that Dr Ben Collen remains “highly concerned about the survival of the little hippos because they still face the threat of deforestation and bushmeat hunters.”

Pygmy hippopotamuses, which look like smaller versions of the hippopotamus, are a mysterious, secretive species that are not very often spotted in the wild.

According to the International Animal Rescue, less than 3,000 pygmy hippopotamuses remain in their natural habitat, the Upper Guinean forest which covers parts of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

As only 10% of the original forest is left, the pygmy hippos live in a shrinking world, the International Animal Rescue’s website said, adding, "What is perhaps most amazing is that they survived Liberia's two long and brutal civil wars. Hungry groups of displaced people, rebels and child soldiers ate anything that came their way – Liberia after the conflict was virtually devoid of animals, domesticated or wild.”

Though Liberia is now free from civil war, the pygmy hippos still face danger from illegal logging and poaching.




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