Two endangered pygmy hippos came face to face for the first time at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, and were soon nuzzling up to each other. Fergus and Kambiri were far from shy on their first date, quickly coming nose-to-nose in the water. "It may look a bit like hippo kisses, but that's how pygmy hippos interact and get to know one another. They interact with their noses and also show their strength and dominance with open mouth gesturing," said zookeeper Johny Wade.
Pygmy hippos are only half as tall as the common hippopotamus, but they have an equally cavernous mouth and formidable teeth. Native to the forests and swamps of West Africa, pygmy hippos are solitary animals that generally only come together for breeding. Taronga's pair normally live in adjacent exhibits, but with Kambiri showing signs of being ready to mate, keepers decided the time was right to introduce her to Fergus as part of the zoo's conservation breeding programme.
The pair had previously interacted through a fence separating their exhibits, and keepers were delighted with the behaviours shown during their first meeting in the flesh. "We didn't see any aggressive behaviour. They were playful and excited by the interactions, playing in the water together and having a little chase around on land," said Wade. The hippos will continue to enjoy daily introductions over the next two weeks in the hope that one will lead to a successful mating.
Kambiri is nearly six years old now, having been born at Taronga in June 2010.
With as few as 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild in just four countries in West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast) every birth in captivity is an important addition to the region's insurance population for the endangered species.