Taronga Zoo has played host to a first date with a difference, with keepers introducing two endangered Pygmy Hippos to each other for the first time.
Young breeding pair, Fergus and Kambiri, were far from shy during their first physical meeting, 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 Keeper, Johny Wade.
Only half as tall as the Common Hippopotamus, Pygmy Hippos still cut an imposing figure with their 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 Pygmy Hippos normally live in adjacent exhibits, but with Kambiri showing signs of going into oestrus, keepers decided the time was right to introduce her to Fergus as part of the Zoo’s conservation breeding program.
While the pair have enjoyed many positive interactions through a fence separating their exhibits, 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 Johny.
The hippos will continue to enjoy daily introductions over the next two weeks in the hope that one will lead to a successful mating.
Nearly six years old, Kambiri was the last Pygmy Hippo calf to be 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, every birth at Taronga is an important addition to the region’s insurance population for the endangered species.
“These elusive animals continue to be threatened by loss of habitat as their forest homes are logged and converted to farmland. They are also vulnerable to poaching, hunting and civil unrest,” said Johny.
Visitors can see Fergus and Kambiri in their home on Taronga’s Rainforest Trail.