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Rare pygmy hippo’s death attributed to pneumonia

Date Published: 14 Dec, 2011
Rare pygmy hippo’s death attributed to pneumonia

Elizabeth yawns after sumptous lunch at the Nairobi Safari Walk

The death of a rare and secretive female pygmy hippo on Monday night at the Nairobi Safari Walk has been attributed to an age-related bout of pneumonia.  According to a post-mortem examination report prepared by Dr Edward Kariuki, a Kenya Wildlife Service veterinary doctor, the unique wild animal succumbed to a bacterial infection at the animal welfare facility.  Parts of the animal have been specially preserved for the mounting and stuffing in readiness for taxidermy to keep Elizabeth at the Nairobi Safari Walk museum for posterity.   

The popular Elizabeth was part of a pair of pygmy hippos donated by former President Willian Tubman of Liberia as a gift to Kenyans through the President, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, in the 1970s. She leaves behind Bob, a hippo grandson, aged about nine years. Other relatives of Elizabeth are found in Mt Kenya Game Ranch and Oj Jogi Ranch in the expansive wildlife-rich Laikipia County. Elizabeth signified a diplomatic bridge between Kenya and Liberia and her passing on is a sad moment. However, the remaining siblings are living testimonies of the friendly relations between Kenya and Liberia. In her lifetime, her early years in Kenya were spent in the Nairobi Animal Orphanage as it was called then. It was transferred to a private conservancy in Ol Jogi in Laikipia to pave way for the modern Nairobi Safari Walk.

While at Ol Jogi, Elizabeth gave birth to a number of offspring, which she has left behind. Her return to the refurbished Nairobi safari Walk was a joyous occasion, not only to her handlers but to the many fans, to whom she had endeared herself. Until her death, she was a star attraction at the Nairobi Safari Walk where she enjoyed the prime of place in the first enclosure as one enters the captive animal husbandry facility.  Unlike the Nile hippo, which is indigenous to East Africa, the Pygmy hippo is found in isolated pockets of West African forests  and swamps of the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and possibly Nigeria and Guinea. Pygmy hippos are severely threatened due to deforestation and bush meat hunting with an estimated 3,000 individuals remaining, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). 

Pygmy hippos were unknown outside of West Africa until the 19th century. Introduced to zoos in the early 20th century, they breed well in captivity and the vast majority of research is derived from zoo specimens. According to IUCN, the survival of the species in captivity is more assured than in the wild.  Pygmy hippos are primarily threatened by loss of habitat, as forests are logged and converted to farm land, and are also vulnerable to poaching for meat and natural predators.  The name Hippopotamus came from the Greek, and it meant horse. They called it the river horse but they are more closely related to the pig than a horse. Two hippo species are found in Africa. The large hippo, found in East Africa, which occurs in large numbers in south of the Sahara.  The other, much smaller species of hippo is the pygmy hippopotamus is limited West Africa, it is a shy, solitary forest dweller, and now rare.  

At first glance, the pygmy hippopotamus looks like a mini version of its larger relative, the  Nile hippopotamus (also known as the river, or common, hippopotamus). But on closer examination there are other differences besides size. The pygmy hippo has adaptations for living in the water but is much less aquatic than the Nile hippo.  Not only is the pygmy hippo much smaller, it is much more rare, found only in the interior forests in parts of West Africa. They are more pig-like in shape than Nile hippopotamuses, with proportionately smaller heads and proportionately longer legs and necks.  The pygmy hippo is reclusive and nocturnal. 

Nairobi Safari Walk is barely 7 km south of the city centre.  The animal welfare facility is a combination of skilled and creative landscape design, unique wildlife species and detailed interpretation.
With a combination of three simulated ecosystems namely forests, wetlands and savannahs, visitors have an opportunity to learn about these valuable resources and how they can contribute to conservation. Some unique plants and animals that are locally extinct or threatened are also displayed.

The Nairobi Safari Walk is an eye-opener to Kenya’s  national parks and reserves. It offers an opportunity to learn what to expect to see across the country. Experience a taste of Kenya’s rich animal collection including the rare bongo, white rhino, albino zebra, a collection of cats, antelopes and primates. NSW is also home to a collection of about 150 species of local trees
 

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