Wolee came to the Oklahoma City Zoo in 1999. He is 42 years old and the second oldest pygmy hippo living in North American zoo populations. As a long-time resident of the Zoo, he spends his days relaxing in his wallow, lounging by the pool or taking a dip in the water to cool off. In colder weather, Wolee may be inside the Pachyderm building investigating pool toys or sleeping on his cozy hay bed. As his caretaker, I like for his enrichment to include balls that both sink and float, unusual scents and fun treats to keep him active and stimulate his mind.
Pygmy hippos are also much rarer than common hippos. They can be found alone or in pairs in the wild, ranging from Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. While they spend their days in wallows or rivers, at night they head out on land to forage for food. Pygmy hippos are currently endangered with less than 3,000 in the wild. Although they do not have many natural predators, these shy animals are known to be hunted for their meat. The forests they live in are being burned and cut away at an alarming rate due to logging and human encroachment.
While Wolee may look like a miniature version of the Nile hippo, he is definitely different in behavior and physical characteristics. The pygmy hippo has adaptations for spending time in the water, but are much less aquatic than their larger relatives. For example, his nose and ears close underwater just like common hippos, but his head is rounder and narrower, and his neck is proportionally longer. Also, his eyes are not on top of his head. Pygmy hippo feet are less webbed, toes are freer and legs are longer than the common hippo. His dark skin is smooth and thin, which helps him stay cool in the humidity of the rainforest. However, the thin skin could cause him to dehydrate quickly in the hot sun so it secretes a fluid that looks like sweat, which gives him a shiny or wet look protecting him from sunburns.
I will say coming to work is not hard when you get to take care of such a cool, mellow guy as Wolee!
– Crystal Querry, animal caretaker