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They sort of lumber on land, but in the water, the pygmy hippopotamus is as graceful as a ballerina.
Even if the hippo in question is a male and not quite 2 months old.
You can see for yourself in the Lied Jungle at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.
There a pygmy hippo calf born Feb. 22 is now on view with his mother, 13-year-old Chomel, who has been on loan from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago since 2011. The father, Scooby, 22, belongs to the Omaha zoo.
This is Chomel's first calf, and “she couldn't be a more perfect mom,” said Christie Eddie, curator of small mammals. “She's very protective.”
Pygmy hippos don't swim at birth. The calf was slowly introduced to water in the display area, a little more added each day, and now swims alongside his mother. In fact, most of his nursing is done underwater.
The Omaha hippo calf weighed 15 pounds at birth — larger than average; 12 pounds is considered big — and now tips the scale at 50 pounds. He's healthy and a good eater, Eddie said. As an adult, he'll weigh up to 700 pounds.
The pygmy hippo shouldn't be confused with the river hippopotamus, which can be 10 times larger.
Another difference between pygmy hippos and river hippos is their lifestyles. River hippos tend to be found in herds in the rivers and lakes surrounded by grasslands all over sub-Saharan Africa. Pygmy hippos, which live in the rainforest and swamplands of western Africa, are solitary creatures. Males and females usually come together only for mating.
However, Chomel and Scooby are an unusual couple. “We're lucky. They get along and share the Lied Jungle display most of the time,” Eddie said, adding that Scooby has been moved since the calf arrived.
Their solitary natures make them stubborn, easily spooked and ornery around people, Eddie said.
The calf brings the zoo's total to four (an older female also is separate), but he will belong to the Lincoln Park Zoo, too, and eventually will find a home at another zoo. He will become sexually mature in three years or so, Eddie said, and won't be able to reproduce with the hippos here.
Pygmy hippos, an endangered species, are native to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. There may be colonies in Guinea and Nigeria. Because they are so solitary and mostly nocturnal, it's difficult to get an exact count of how many exist in the wild, Eddie said.
The fact that Omaha's calf is a male is important for the species. There are only 27 pygmy hippos in North American zoos; the calf is the 11th male. Only three calves have been born in North America in the past 2½ years, Eddie said.
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