A little under two weeks ago, a pygmy hippopotamus calf was born at Colchester Zoo in the UK. Mother Venus gave birth to a little daughter on May 9, after a normal pregnancy of six months. Since her arrival, the yet-to-be-named youngster has been “happily running along after mum,” whilst dad Freddie is kept in a separate enclosure, in line with the animal’s behavior in the wild.
Conceived naturally by the established breeding pair, this birth is great news for the species, which is classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List. With around 2,000 individuals left roaming in just four countries in West Africa, pygmy hippos' predominant threat comes from deforestation. The fragmented forest that has been left behind isolates populations and increases the susceptibility of smaller groups to local extinction.
Around 350 pygmy hippos are kept in institutions worldwide, a population that now has another small addition. Weighing in at just 6 kilograms (13 pounds), the pygmy calf will grow to only one-tenth of the size of her cousin, the common hippo – which on average weighs up to 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds). Pygmy hippos are also slightly less aquatic than their cousins, with fewer adaptations so to speak. Their eyes are not on top of their heads, their feet are less webbed, and their legs are longer.
But Colchester Zoo are keen to introduce their new addition to the pool when she is strong enough, as Venus and her daughter will still spend a lot of time there – after all, the name hippopotamus is derived from the Greek word for “river horse”. Father Freddie will not be joining in with the pair’s activities, as in the wild mother and baby live separately to the father. In the zoo, he is only introduced to Venus during the breeding season.
This little one is not the only new arrival at the zoo during lockdown. Five cheetah cubs were born to mother Sia on April 15, although one has sadly since passed away. Elsewhere in the UK, the Porfell Wildlife Park and Sanctuary in Cornwall announced the birth of two cubs belonging to the smallest species of cat in the world (rusty-spotted cats). Across the world in Hong Kong, the lack of onlookers during the mass global shutdown meant that two giant pandas finally mated after 10 years of trying.
Behind closed doors, the circle of life continues.