Conservation Reports

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Hippo Conservation is critical to the overall health of African wetlands. These ecosystems have evolved for millions of years with hippos living in them.  Hippos often live in groups of tens to hundreds.  The removal of this multi-ton species from a habitat would obviously have dramatic, though unpredictable, consequences.  

The last formal estimate of common and pygmy hippo populations was conducted by the IUCN Hippo SubGroup in 2004.  This estimate suggested between 125,000 and 148,000 common hippos and no more than 2,000-3,000 pygmy hippos remain in the wild.  To learn more, visit the Hippo SubGroup's country-by-country assessments of hippo conservation status and protection efforts

While efforts to relist common and pygmy hippos based on the 2004 estimates are underway, formal conservation status are still based on results from 1994.   The hippo-related portions of the 1993 IUCN Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos Edited by William L.R. Oliver is currently available for download in .PDF format.

Current Status

The last formal assesment of the populations of common hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) and pygmy hippos (Hexaprotodon liberiensis) by the Hippo SubGroup occurred 1994.  This assessment remains the source of their current conservation status.  The results of the assessment are published in the IUCN Red List.  However, another assessment occurred in 2004 and has provided new recommendations.

Common Hippopotamus (Hippopotmaus amphibius) Listing

2004 IUCN Hipo SubGroup Assessment
Hip. amphibius - Category (Proposed): Vulnerable - Reason A2 (A1(c) and A1(d))
Hip. amphibius tschadensis - No proposed changes

1994 IUCN Listing
Hip. amphibius - Lower Risk/Least Concern
Hip. amphibius tschadensis - Category: Vulnerable - Reason: A1a

Pygmy Hippopotamus (Hexaprotodon liberiensis) Listing

2004 IUCN Hippo SubGroup Assessment
Liberian (Hex. lib. liberiensis) - Category (Proposed): Endangered - Reasons: B1b(iii) and C1

Nigerian (Hex. lib. heslopi) - No proposed changes

1994 IUCN Listing
Liberian (Hex. lib. liberiensis) - Category: Vulnerable - Reasons: C2a and E
Nigerian (Hex. lib. heslopi) - Category: Critically Endangered - Reason: D1

Categories and Criteria

The online version of the Red List provides detailed explanations of how the IUCN compiles data, as well as the categories and criteria for the various conservation threat levels.

Common and pygmy hippos are also protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Pressures on Common Hippos

  • One of the primary pressures on common hippos comes from human encroachment.  Hippos tend to prefer to live in areas of slow-moving fresh water with nearby flat grassy areas to feed.  This is exactly the sort of area that humans also find desirable.
  • A second cause for concern is an increased interest in their teeth.  With the current international trade ban on elephant ivory, carvers and buyers have been forced to look for alternative materials that are not subject to the same import/export restrictions. Hippos have carvable canine teeth that measure upwards of 60 cm in length.  The result, a more than 530% increase in the annual export of hippo teeth from Africa within two years of the ivory ban taking effect.  Evidence of the market for hippo teeth is exemplified by one customs seizure in May 1997 of 1,738 illegally smuggled hippo teeth passing through Orly airport in Paris.  The teeth came from Uganda and were bound for the Far East.  Today, for every one hippo remaining in the wild, there are 3 to 4 African elephants.
  • Poaching, has also become an increased concern over the last decade - particularly in areas of civil unrest.  In the Democractic Republic of Congo, once a major hippo stronghold, populations have declined by as much as 95%.  Hippo poaching has historically increased in areas where a combination of foot shortages, the proliferation of high-powered rifles, and a breakdown in the rule of law have taken place.  In more stable areas, hippos still occasionally find their way into snares and the results can be heartbreaking.  However, other threats currently pose a more immediate concern.
Snared Hippo
Photo Courtesy of: Honorary Rangers Counter Poaching & Investigative Unit - South African Parks

Pressures on Pygmy Hippos

  • An accurate evaluation of the status of pygmy hippos is not currently available.  The largest abundance is assumed to live in Liberia, with the largest concentration in the Sapo National Forest.  However, years of political unrest have made monitoring impossible.  At best, 3000 pygmy hippos may still remain.  Other isolated populations may exist in the neighboring countries of Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone, however these groups may be numbered in no more than the dozens.
  • A group of pygmy hippos once lived in Nigeria.  In 1969, these animals were identified as representing an entirely new subspecies, Hexaprotodon liberiensis heslopi. Unfortunately, there have been no confirmed sightings of pygmy hippos in Nigeria in decades, though unofficial reports provide some encouragement that they may still exist.

Want More Information?

To learn more about the status of common and pygmy hippos, please view our conservation maps by clicking on the images below.

Population Map
Population Map
Trend Map
Trend Map
Pygmy Map
   Pygmy Map

Or see the Hippo SubGroup's country-by-country assessment of hippo conservation status and protection efforts