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First baby pygmy hippo in Kansas born at Tanganyika Wildlife Park

Wednesday, July 5 2017 10:15 AM

Tanganyika Wildlife Park welcomes the first pygmy hippo born in Kansas to its pygmy hippo parents, mom, Posie, and dad, Pluto. 

The new baby is believed to be a girl, but it won’t be known for sure until he/she is a little older and then can also be named. The baby weighs approximately 13 pounds and is currently the size of a shoebox.

Tanganyika Wildlife Park’s are the first and only pygmy hippos in Kansas, and the first to give birth in Kansas.

“For Tanganyika as a breeding facility, this is a huge milestone,” the Park’s Assistant Director Matt Fouts said. “This marks Tanganyika’s 40th successful breeding program for rare and endangered species.”

The birth of the pygmy hippo was several years in the making. In 2011, as Tanganyika was looking to expand and add to its collection, Jim Fouts, the Park’s Director, was considering common hippos. However, he decided to focus on pygmy hippos because their physical size was more conducive to the available space and their wild population was in decline. In 2008, they were placed on the endangered species list and in 2014 the International Studbook for pygmy hippos conducted a census that determined the age structure of the captive population was unhealthy. In other words, there was a lack of young animals to ensure their preservation.

“As one of the most successful breeding facilities in the world, I knew we could make a difference for pygmy hippos,” Jim Fouts said. “However, I didn’t expect it to take so long to achieve it.”

In 2012, Jim began his search and had to look internationally due to the small availability of pygmy hippos in the U.S. He was able to secure a male from Indonesia after two years of searching. In 2014, he traded the male for another male in Florida and received a female on a breeding loan. Both Posie and Pluto were too young to breed, so they would have to wait two more years before they reached sexual maturity. They were introduced to each other in July of 2016 and now Tanganyika Wildlife Park is home to three pygmy hippos.

In the wild, pygmy hippos can be found in West Africa. They inhabit rivers and swamps in dense lowland forests and have several adaptations for living in aquatic environments. Though pygmy hippos spend most of their time in the water, calves are born on land. At birth, calves weigh 7.5 to 14 pounds. For the first few weeks after birth, pygmy hippo calves cannot walk well, so the mother will tuck her baby away in tall grass or bushes while she feeds. Calves can nurse on land or underwater. These herbivores feed on a wide variety of roots, grasses, leaves, shoots, and fruits. At first glance, the pygmy hippo may look like a miniaturized version of the common hippopotamus. Common hippos do weigh about 10 times as much as a pygmy hippo, but there are more differences than just size.

In 2013, a study cited on the IUCN website determined 20% of the pygmy hippo population in the wild had declined in just two generations. The pygmy hippo is classified as Endangered by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature. They are also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Pygmy hippos occupy a small range and face substantial threats from deforestation. Population estimates in the wild are difficult, but it is thought that fewer than 3,000 individuals remain. The forests they rely on for their food are being cut down or burned away, while the rivers they inhabit are used more and more frequently by humans.

The new baby will be on exhibit at Tanganyika starting Saturday, July 8, 2017.

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