Despite being a large mammal, the Pygmy Hippopotamus is an elusive and rarely seen species. In 1993 its population was estimated at only 2-3,000 individuals and since then numbers have declined due to habitat loss and hunting.
The Pygmy Hippo is a symbol of the forests of West Africa - the hippos' fate is intrinsically linked to that of the forest. By securing a future for the Pygmy Hippo its home will be protected as well: the Upper Guinea Forest ecosystem. In doing so, the future of many other species threatened with extinction including the Forest Elephant, Western Chimpanzee, Liberian Mongoose and Jentink's Duiker will be assured.
This SOS - Save Our Species project was implemented by the ZSL (Zoological Society of London) as part of its EDGE of Existence programme to conserve the world's most extraordinary threatened creatures. The Pygmy Hippo project united conservationists across the region to spot Pygmy Hippos using a network of hidden cameras in an effort to identify important areas in which to work with local villagers to protect the animals.
Scientists from Njala University in Sierra Leone and ZSL carried out a national assessment in Sierra Leone to determine where Pygmy Hippos are found. The assessment covered more than 70,000km2 of possible Pygmy Hippo range and helped identify priority sites for conservation.
In August 2011, a new population of Pygmy Hippos was discovered at the foot of Loma Mountain, northern Sierra Leone and may be the most significant population in Sierra Leone, outside the Gola Forests.
Several former hunters from the local village have been hired to work on the project, providing them with an alternative income to hunting. Community engagement and awareness is ongoing and camera traps and other survey techniques are now being used to determine the size and full extent of this population.
One community around Loma Mountain has pledged to stop hunting the Pygmy Hippo and not to hunt any species in areas where Pygmy Hippos are most common.
A Pygmy Hippo conservation road map has been laid out to safeguard the species led by IUCN's Hippo Specialist Group and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). This is supported by government agencies and universities in West Africa as well as local and international NGOs.