SAN DIEGO — After days of anticipation, an endangered pygmy hippopotamus was born at the San Diego Zoo this month — and he’s as cute as he is important to the future of its species.
The calf, born to a 4-year-old hippo named Mabel, is the first successful pygmy birth at the zoo in more than 30 years. And it appears the little one is a fast learner.
“Typically, a pygmy hippo calf is tucked into a safe place before it begins to walk and follow its mother,” zoo staff explained. “The calf, which has not been named, stood, walked and followed Mabel around within just a few hours of being born. Mom and calf are doing very well.”
Pygmy hippos are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They live in rivers and streams in the forests of West Africa, according to San Diego Zoo Global. Though once spread across more of the globe, pygmies are now found in only four countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“Fewer than 2,500 pygmy hippos now remain in Africa, and the primary threats to this species’ population are logging, farming and human settlement,” wildlife specialists wrote.
As a bellwether for his species in captivity, the little calf at the zoo has met or surpassed each of the milestones experts watch for to make sure he is developing properly. That includes taking a dip under water, first in a special, shallow tub made just for him in his indoor habitat.
The little guy did so well, he is now allowed to go in the “big kid” pool: “The calf demonstrated the natural adaptations and instincts of pygmy hippos—to close their nostrils and to hold their breath under water—and today, both Mabel and the calf have full access to the pool in the maternity yard,” the zoo explained.
The calf now weighs 25 pounds, and he and his mother will be introduced back into the main hippo habitat at the park in about a month.
Pygmy hippos are one of hundreds of endangered species the staff at San Diego Zoo Global is working to protect from extinction, staff said.