Conservationists have captured the first ever footage (see video below) of the elusive pygmy hippo (Choeropsis liberiensis) in Liberia. The forest-dwelling, nocturnal species—weighing only a quarter of the size of the well-known common hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius)—has proven incredibly difficult to study. But the use of camera traps in Liberia’s Sapo National Park has allowed researchers a glimpse into its cryptic life.
“Outside of folklore and zoos, we know surprisingly little about the nocturnal and secretive pygmy hippo,” explained Dr Chloe Hodgkinson, Liberia program manager at Fauna and Flora International (FFI). “These camera surveys provide us with vital insight into the ecology, behavior and distribution of this species.”
Recent work on the pygmy hippo, which is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, is being conducted by FFI along with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Forestry Development Authority of Liberia. The pygmy hippo is a focal species for the ZSL’s EDGE program, which targets evolutionary unique and threatened species.
Native to west Africa, the pygmy hippo is down to around 2,000 individuals. Devastated by widespread deforestation the animals are also periodically killed for bushmeat. War in the region has also taken its toll. Aside from Liberia, the pygmy hippo is also believed to be found in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Guinea, and Sierra Leon. A possibly unique subspecies is thought extinct in Niger.
Liberia’s wildlife, like its people, have suffered from two recent civil wars,the first lasting from 1989-1996 and the second from 1999-2003. During the first civil war much of Sapo National Park’s infrastructure was destroyed and several of its rangers killed. In the more recent conflict thousands of hungry Liberians, whose homes were being looted, hunted in the park for subsistence, eating whatever they could kill.
Despite the terrible struggles, Sapo National Park—stretching over an area (180,800 hectares or 698 square miles) more than twice the size of Singapore —remains a unique place of regional biodiversity which, unlike many other parks in west Africa, has never suffered from large-scale logging. Other inhabitants of the park include the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and Jentink’s dukier (Cephalophus jentinki), both listed as Endangered, as well as the diana monkey (Cercopithecus diana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) both listed as Vulnerable. Over 100 mammals and nearly 600 bird species have been recorded in the park.
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