A three-week-old pygmy hippo is the centre of attention at Bristol Zoo. The youngster, whose gender is not yet known, is one of just a few thousand pygmy hippos in the world. Going for a dip in a heated pool with its mother on Friday (20 November), the zoo's assistant curator of mammals, Lynsey Bugg said the birth of the rare animal was a cause for celebration.

"We have a new calf that's almost three weeks, three weeks tomorrow. It's doing very, very well. We think it's a boy but we just want to make sure that it is before we go any further, such as naming it, which is always a very important thing for keepers to do. But mum and calf are doing very, very well, we have a very protective mum here, her name is Sirana. So she's very protective of the calf, she doesn't let us get all that close, but she's doing an absolute perfect job of looking after him," she said.

Pygmy hippos are much smaller than the common hippopotamus. They are also less aquatic than their non-pygmy hippo relatives, but their noses and ears can be closed when they are underwater.

The pygmy hippopotamus, from the forests of West Africa, is on a list of threatened species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There were roughly 2,000 left in the world a decade ago, the most recent population survey showed, but habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking in recent years has likely played a role in reducing the population.

Bugg said it was essential to continue with breeding programmes to keep the species alive.

"The pygmy hippos are very endangered in their natural habitat in Africa and they're facing lots of threats. There's around possibly three to four thousand of them only in the wild, which is not very many, compared to such a big animal. So it's hugely important that we have a captive breeding programme that can actually, you know, have a safeguard for the species and we can make sure that if the numbers continue to fall in the wild, that we do have numbers in captivity so we don't lose these animals altogether," she said.