Big goal, small hippo

Gola’s pygmy powerhouse

We'll be talking a lot about Gola this month, and with good reason. If you haven't yet heard, we're teaming up with Size of Wales to raise crucial funds for the protection and conservation one of the world's most unique, special places, a place filled with life. Many astonishing creatures call Gola home; for a few, it's virtually all they have left.

The pygmy hippopotamus is one unusual Gola inhabitant. It looks a lot like its well-known large cousin, but tends to be around half its height, standing at less than a metre. Like the hippopotamus, it lives near water, bathing frequently to help stop its skin cracking. It shares the same strange, pink 'sweat' too, possibly a type of natural sunscreen and once thought to be blood due to its reddish hue.

Pygmy hippos are smaller than their well-known relatives

The pygmy, however, is a little more mysterious than your average hippo. It's a lot more timid, preferring to live a solitary life - one pygmy hippo encountering another will usually try and ignore or avoid it. When, on occasion, they are seen in pairs, it tends to be mother and child or two mating adults. They've even been to known to spend the day hiding in burrows along riverbanks, waiting until night when it's safer to emerge and find food - being largely nocturnal, they seek out their diet of ferns, fruit and other vegetation by moonlight.

This shy nature is what makes them difficult to find and study in the wild; there is a lot still to be learnt about them. One thing that we do know, though, is that they are vanishing. Estimations of their numbers in the wild run to a scant 2-3 thousand, possibly less; the group in the Gola rainforest is one of only a handful scattered across West Africa. Habitat loss, poaching, and human warfare have pushed this elusive creature ever closer towards the history books. Saving those that are left is vital.

Pygmy hippos are sometimes born in shallow water

Pygmy hippos are just one of the creatures that rely on Sierra Leone's 'green diamond'. With the Upper Guinean rainforest shrinking rapidly, Gola is one of the few remaining remnants of this astonishing natural world. For the pygmy hippo, and many others like it, we need to continue working to protect the rainforest, and its homes, for generations of humans and animals to come.