The San Diego Zoo’s first pygmy hippo, an adult female named Tiny, was obtained in 1941. In 1963, we received three pygmy hippos, a pair from the Ivory Coast and a female born at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland. We welcomed the birth of our first pygmy hippo, Holly, in 1970, and have had 13 more births over the years at both the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Today, the Zoo has a pair of pygmy hippos, Francesca and Elgon, along the Hippo Trail in the San Diego Zoo’s Lost Forest. The two get along well, as long as Elgon remembers that Francesca is the boss. Francesca came from the zoo in Rome in 2000, and Elgon, born in a zoo in South Africa, arrived here in 2004. They spend their time munching on greens, swimming in their pool, and basking in the sun.
They occasionally share a piece of browse with the Wolf’s guenons, monkeys that share their mixed-species exhibit along the Hippo Trail in the Zoo’s Lost Forest, munching on one end while a guenon nibbles on the other. And our pygmy hippos don’t seem to mind when a guenon roommate hops on their back for a ride! It’s all great fun for animals and guests alike. At night, the guenons go into their bedrooms, and the pygmy hippos get free reign of the exhibit area, since they are largely nocturnal and enjoy roaming and resting under the stars.
Known to be found only in four countries in West Africa, pygmy hippos are now classified as endangered, with possibly less than 3,000 individuals remaining in the wild. The forests that shelter them are being cut down or burned away, and the rivers where they swim are now polluted by humans. These shy animals are also hunted for their meat in logged areas. Fortunately, pygmy hippos breed well in zoos; however, more protection is needed for the wild populations so that they will not vanish altogether.