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Lowry Park Zoo

A hippo for Christmas

A 2-week-old pygmy hippopotamus at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is packing on the holiday pounds to the delight of guests who have gotten a peek at this rare creature. Births are few in the managed population among institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), with this calf bringing the total number of animals to just 55. Pygmy hippos are extremely rare in the wild, numbering only a few thousand.

The female calf, born November 15 to second-time mother “Zsa Zsa,” is only the second in the Zoo’s history (the first occurring in 2008). Animal care team members have monitored the newborn since birth who is nursing routinely and has “filled out” in the last two weeks. Calves are born about the size of a large human infant – or a Thanksgiving turkey – approximately 10 pounds and 20 inches long. The calf’s motor skills are also progressing. She is moving around more independently and exploring her surroundings, including the heated pool.

The pygmy hippos at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo are one of more than 90 species in the zoo’s SSPs, cooperative breeding and conservation programs managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to carefully maintain a healthy, self-sustaining captive population.

The Nigerian population of pygmy hippos is considered endangered. More “pig like” than its larger Nile relative, the pygmy can be found in West Africa in lowland forests. The species is mainly confined to Liberia, with small numbers in neighboring countries. The animals are comfortable both on land and in water, but rest and forage near waterways. In Africa, pygmy hippos can most often be seen in shady sites near swamps, riverbanks or muddy areas.

Pygmy hippos are much smaller than Nile hippos, with adults averaging 350-550 pounds and standing only about three feet tall at the shoulder and four to six feet in length. The skin is smooth and hairless, and black to purple in color. The animal is known to by a shy, solitary species, and is primarily nocturnal.

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