Hippopotamuses… tough is not the word… everyone knows them for their man-squishing temper tantrums… though few know that their hide is so thick they are bullet proof and what’s more they can bimble around on any terrain… put quite simply they have evolved into the biological equivalent of a tank. Then there is Choeropsis liberiensis, the pygmy hippo… the anti-hippo.
The common hippo is renowned for its ferocity, often cited as the most dangerous animal in Africa. Of course the mosquito is a far more dangerous animal than the hippo, though I know which one I’d rather tackle with a newspaper. While the hippo will think nothing at having a go at eating a boat or causing a ruckus through farms and villages… the pygmy hippo thinks all this rampaging quite tiresome… not least because he’s knee high and would be frankly abominable at the chore. It would probably be safer to say the common hippo is the most ferocious animal in Africa. It is aggressive and invasive. The mosquito is more of a silent assassin, but enough of him he’s such a whiner.
The pygmy hippo on the other hand is a rather rare hippo from western Africa. The other living species of hippo, the common hippo is much bigger… ah quite, yes and more common. Hippopotamus means “river horse” in Greek, the locals call the pygmy hippo the “river pig” but the actual family tree of the hippos is a tad more smashing than that. Their closest living relatives are in fact the cetaceans; the whales and dolphins. Which makes sense when you think about it really… a water living fatso and all that.
Interestingly hippos, despite spending 90% of their time in the water, can’t swim. To get around in the water they simply sink to the bottom of the river and skedaddle along the bottom. The pygmy hippo spends a lot more time on dry land. To stop getting sunburn both types of hippo actually secrete sunscreen, or “blood sweat” as it has rather gruesomely become known. It is neither blood nor sweat but is a highly alkaline substance that turns pink in sunlight, it’s also a rather effective antibacterial agent.
Pygmy hippos are smaller and spend more time on land. They have a sloped back allowing them to pass through the bush more effectively, they merrily mark their path by pooing while using their tiny wee tail to scatter the stuff all over… again like their bigger cousin. For this reason that they are one of the few retromingent animals… they urinate backwards.
Of course the point I’m very slowly getting round to is that the pygmy hippo is not a chubby sociopath with a head swimming in blood lust, in fact they are quite the opposite of the aggressive common hippo. They are adorable tubby lumps who are just begging for a scratch under the chin, unfortunately you’d be lucky to give the wee chap a tickle in the wild, not just because they are very rare, they are very shy… and though no doubt they’d appreciate the scratch they are quite frankly avoiding that big dangerous cousin of theirs.