Hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibius,
& Pygmy Hippopotamus, Choeropsis liberiensis

2001, revised 2011

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Common hippo

Common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)

(Boisserie 2008) (Boisserie et al 2005) (Harris et al. 2008) (Kingdon 1979) (Lihoreau et al 2006) (Meester & Setzer 1971)
(Stuenes 1989) (Wilson & Reeder 1992)

Describer (Date): Linnaeus (1758) Systema Naturae Tenth ed. Vol 1. p 74, Laurentii Salvii Stockholm. Described animals from the Nile River in Egypt. 

Kingdom: Animal
    Phylum: Chordata 
        Class: Mammalia
             Order: Artiodactyla* (Even-toed hoofed animals: includes pigs, sheep goats, cattle, deer)
                     Family: Hippopotamidae
                         Genus: Choeropsis
                             Species: Choeropsis liberiensis (Pygmy Hippopotamus)
                                     Subspecies: C. l. liberiensis
Subspecies: C. l. heslopi
                         Genus: Hippopotamus
                            Species: Hippopotamus amphibius (Common Hippopotamus)
                            Species: Hippopotamus madagascariensis (extinct dwarf hippo from Madagascar)
                            Species: Hippopotamus lemerlei (extinct dwarf hippo from Madagascar)

*New anatomical and DNA evidence on the relationship between Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) recently led to a merging of the two orders into a new group, Cetartiodactyla (Montgelard, 1997; reviewed in Kulemzina, 2009). As of October 2012, experts had not agreed on whether to define Cetartiodactyla as an official taxonomic order that would replace Artiodactyla and Cetacea. Some continue to list hippopotamuses in the order Artiodactyla (Franklin, 2011) or use the term Cetartiodactyla without defining it as an order (IUCN, 2008).

Taxonomy, Phylogeny, and Historical Records

(Lewison & Oliver 2008) (Oliver 1993)

Common hippo distribution Pygmy hippo distribution

Common hippo distribution.
Adapted from www.d-maps.com according to IUCN fact sheet.
Click here or on map for detailed inset.

From IUCN/SSC Hippo Specialist SubGroup.

Pygmy hippo distribution.
Adapted from www.d-maps.com according to IUCN fact sheet.
Click here or on map for detailed inset.

From IUCN Choeropsis liberiensis fact sheet.


 (Estes 1991) (Eltringham 1999) (Kingdon 1979, 1997) (Nowak 1991)

Height: Common Hippo 150-165 cm (4.9-5.4 ft)
             Pygmy Hippo about half the height of Common Hippo
Weight: Common Hippo males up to 1,475 kg (3253 lb); Females 1,360 kg (655-2,344 kg).
              Pygmy Hippo about a sixth the weight of the larger Common Hippo
Length: Common Hippo males 300-505 (9.8-16.6 ft), females 290-430 cm (9.5-14 ft)
             Pygmy Hippo males 157 cm ( in ) , females up to 150 cm ( in)
Tail: Common Hippo 28-35 cm (11-14 in) flattened laterally and bristled
        Pygmy Hippo 16 cm (6.3 in)
General Aquatic Adaptations of H. amphibius: Teeth:
Pygmy hippo mouth
Common hippo mouth
Hippos display tusk-like canines sharpened
by wear against their upper teeth. To the front of
a pygmy hippo jaw are a single pair of incisors.

Common hippos with their wider jaws
have two or three pairs of incisors.


(Coughlin & Fish 2009) (Eltringham 1999, 2001) (Estes 1991) (Kingdon 1979) (Klingel 1990, 1995) (Lang et al 1990)
(Mosepele et al 2009) (Oliver 1993) (Roberts 1951)

Pygmy hippo
Pygmy hippos often spend time resting and feeding on land.
Their behavior in the wild is still largely unknown.
Activity Cycle

        Daily Pattern (Common Hippo) Social Group

        General (Common Hippo)         Aggression (Common Hippo)         Territorial Behavior (Common Hippo) Communication

         Displays / Visual signals         Vocalization Common Hippo (Barklow 1994, 1997) (Klingel 1990) (Vaughan et al 2011)         Olfactory signals Thermoregulation Locomotion (Coughlin & Fish 2009) Environmental Modification ("hydro engineering") (Eltringham 1999, 2001) (Mosepele et al 2009) Interspecies Interaction: (Deeble & Stone 2001) (Kingdon 1979) (Klingel 1990) (Olivier and Laurie 1974) (Ruggiero 1996)
(Eltringham 1999) (Jablonski 2004) (Kingdon 1979) (Laws 1968) (Novak 1991) (O'Connor & Campbell 1986)

(Kingdon 1979) (Klingel 1991) (Nowak 1991) (Smuts & Whyte 1981)

Courtship Reproductive rate Gestation Common Hippos 227-240 days (8 months); Pygmy Hippos 188 days (For comparison, elephant 22 months)

Life Stages

Common hippopotamus and her calf
A female hippopotamus gives birth to a single
calf; twins are rare.


        Juvenile:         Adults

Longevity: 35-50 years; record for Common Hippo in captivity 61 years; for Pygmy Hippo 42 years (Weigl 2005)

Captive Breeding

(Hlavacek et al. 2005) (ISIS Web Site) (Klingel, 1990) (Thompson 2002)

(Lewison & Oliver 2008a,b ) (Nowak 1991) (Oliver 1993) (Kingdon,1979)
Threats to survival


© 2001 San Diego Zoo Global. Last updated February 2011. Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to library@sandiegozoo.org.

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