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NSW: Meet Taronga Zoo's new pygmy hippo baby

07 Nov 2008 1:13 PM

SYDNEY, Nov 7 AAP - Taronga Zoo's new pygmy hippo baby was unfazed by the cameras, lapping up lunch before jumping into a bath.

But her birth three weeks ago was almost too much for Monifa, whose name means "I am lucky" in Nigerian.

A difficult breach birth left the calf struggling to live, according to zookeeper Renae Zammit.

"She was quite weak, and it was evident that if we didn't intervene she wouldn't survive," Ms Zammit said.

At her birth Monifa weighed less than four kilograms. She has since gained two kilograms, but is still no more than half a metre long.

Until last week, Ms Zammit and her colleague Tracey Roberts took 24-hour shifts watching and feeding the calf, who will remain on a milk substitute for several weeks at least.

"We would obviously have wanted her mother to raise her, but she definitelywould have died if we didn't step in," Ms Zammit said.

"Every day she's getting better and stronger, and eating more and putting more weight."

Monifa is the zoo's first newborn pygmy hippo in 23 years.

When fully grown, the extremely endangered pygmy hippos are just one-fifth of the size of their more common cousins.

It is estimated there are less than 3,000 left in the wild, hidden away in the jungles of western Africa.

"Every hippo birth in a zoo is helping to support those wild ones that are ever decreasing through logging and pollution and hunting," Ms Zammit said.

"She's very very special."

Monifa is the zoo's fourth pygmy hippopotamus.

AAP stuhnjfmmn =0A