All I want for Christmas is a … pygmy … hippopotamus

Arriving home just in the nick of time for the holidays is a classic movie trope—namely romcoms, which I’m not ashamed to say I love.

On Friday, December 20, we welcomed to the United States a young pygmy hippopotamus named Inocencio, imported from Parque Zoológico Buin Zoo in Chile.

Inocencio 12-20-13

Inocencio the pygmy hippo. Credit: Franklin Park Zoo

Wildlife inspectors from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service met Inocencio when he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on December 20. Our inspectors, along with veterinary and customs inspectors, make sure animals are being imported according to international laws that protect wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife inspectors at JFK and other major ports of entry into the country inspect shipments of wildlife and wildlife products to uphold federal conservation laws and to prevent illegal trafficking. Here, a wildlife inspector examines Inocencio upon his arrival. Credit: USFWS

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife inspectors at JFK and other major ports of entry into the country inspect shipments of wildlife and wildlife products to uphold federal conservation laws and to prevent illegal trafficking. Here, a wildlife inspector examines Inocencio upon his arrival. Credit: USFWS

A veterinarian from the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston – Inocencio’s new home – traveled with the pygmy hippo during the final leg of his journey from New York. Inocencio will join Cleopatra, a female pygmy hippo who already lives at the zoo, and conservationists hope that they’ll mate.

No word from Hollywood yet whether or not this story will be next year’s hit romcom of the holiday season.

Native to West Africa, the pygmy hippo is only a quarter as large as the common hippopotamus, but can still weigh as much as 600 pounds.  This nocturnal, reclusive animal is endangered, mainly because much of its habitat has been lost from deforestation. An accurate count of pygmy hippo numbers in the wild is not currently known.

Inocencio – who currently weighs in at 293 pounds – will spend a month in quarantine before joining Cleopatra in the zoo’s tropical forest exhibit – so if you’re in the Boston area, check it out!

Not only did Inocencio land just in time for Christmas, but also in time for his birthday — on December 28, this young hippo turns two. Just like the classic Christmas novelty song by Gayla Peevey, the Boston zoo wanted a hippopotamus for Christmas, and they got it.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles, no rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too”

Here at the Service, we participate with zoos, wildlife agencies and other partners in international species survival plans, including breeding programs like this one. The goal is to not only increase the numbers of imperiled animals, but to increase genetic diversity and the overall health of threatened and endangered animals in captivity. In fact, as supporters of international wildlife conservation, we partnered in the past with the Zoological Society of London to provide grant funding and scientific support for the conservation of the pygmy hippo in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

There, the species face the threat of population fragmentation, meaning as forests are slashed and burned to make way for farmland, groups of hippos get cut off from each other, making long-term survival much more difficult. Hunting is another threat to pygmy hippo populations.

That’s a lot of pressure for just one little guy. But breeding pygmy hippos in captivity has been met with success in the past, so zoo and wildlife officials are hopeful that Inocencio and Cleopatra will make good mates.

Welcome to the U.S., Inocencio! Your arrival is indeed a gift. Our wish for a hippopotamus for Christmas has come true.

2 Comments on “All I want for Christmas is a … pygmy … hippopotamus

  1. Read the article on F&W Service and Listened to Hippo song…touched my heart and made me laugh. Thank You

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