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Hippopotamus lemerlei 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Hippopotamidae

Scientific Name: Hippopotamus lemerlei
Species Authority: Grandidier in Milne-Edwards, 1868
Common Name(s):
English Madagascan Dwarf Hippopotamus, Malagasy Hippo
Hippopotamus madagascariensis Guldberg, 1883 [illegitimate replacement name]
Taxonomic Notes: Two dwarfed hippopotami were created from recent fossil remains in Madagascar: Hippopotamus lemerlei and Hippopotamus madagascariensis. In a critical contribution, Stuenes (1989) thoroughly described the morphological differences between these species and provided detailed diagnoses. After Stuenes' work (1989), the most complete account is that by Rakotovao et al. (2014), who notably documented significant intraspecific variations within both species. The origin of these species remains uncertain: they are generally seen as deriving from continental species of Hippopotamus, maybe from Hippopotamus amphibius. A third extinct Madagascan species, Hippopotamus laloumena, was proposed by Faure and Guérin (1990) on limited evidence. A recent publication by Faure et al. (2010) does not add significant evidence in favor of the validity of this species, and its dissimilarity from Hippopotamus amphibius still needs to be clarified (Weston and Lister 2009). It may represent evidence for sporadic Mozambique Channel crossing by individuals of the extant large species during the Holocene, including since the European colonization of Madagascar (Burney et al. 2004).

Fovet et al. (2011) suggested that Guldberg's type specimen of H. madagscariensis actually pertains to the other small species, H. lemmerlei. In 1902, C.J.F. Major re-described H. madagascariensis Gulberg, 1883 using a new Malagasy skeleton which was quite different to H. lemmerlei. However, because H. madagscariensis would be no more than a replacement name for H. lemerlei, Fovet et al. (2011) proposed the new name H. guldbergi to designate the species described in 1902 by C.J.F. Major. Rakotovao et al. (2014) disagreed with Fauvet et al. (2011) on the attribution of Guldberg’s specimen to H. lemerlei, and confirmed its identification as H. madagascariensis, in line with Stuenes (1989). This debate is not closed (see Faure et al. 2015), but given that H. madagascariensis was extensively used as an available name prior to 1961 and since then (see section 11.6 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature), and given that the ICZN recommendations regarding the stability of taxonomic nomenclature, it is for now more cautious to continue to use H. madagascariensis and to consider H. gulbergi as its junior synonym. In any case, this debate calls for further revising the material attributed to the two dwarfed hippopotami from Madagascar, including notably their postcranial skeleton.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-01-28
Assessor(s): Boisserie, J.-R.
Reviewer(s): Ransom, C.
Madagascan hippopotami may have survived until recent times (MacPhee and Flemming 1999), notably on the basis of local oral tradition, but is now clearly extinct.
Previously published Red List assessments:
  • 2008 – Extinct (EX)
  • 2002 – Extinct (EX)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Hippopotamus lemerlei is mostly known from southern localities of coastal to lowland Madagascar (see a list of locality in Stuenes 1989). Last appearance datum of Madagascan dwarf hippopotamids remains uncertain. Most recent dates were provided through 14C dating and indicate c. 1000 AD (Dewar 1984, Burney et al. 2004). However, MacPhee and Flemming (1999) proposed it as recent on the basis of local oral tradition (Flacourt 1661; and see Burney and Ramilisonina 1999) and possible younger age of some localities. However, this may only reflect sporadic occurrence of Hippopotamus amphibius.
Countries occurrence:
Regionally extinct:
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This species is now extinct.
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Stuenes (1989) indicated that Hippopotamus lemerlei was probably well adapted to the amphibious way of life observed in the extant Hippopotamus amphibius. She based her conclusion notably on the relatively prominent orbits and developed muzzle of this species. In terms of diet, cranio-mandibular morphology may also indicate similarity with Hip. amphibius (Stuenes 1989), i.e. a diet mainly based on fresh grass. Overall, Hippopotamus lemerlei seems to have been a dweller of freshwater rivers crossing the lowlands of Madagascar.
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Island Dwarf Hippopotamids were probably easy preys for human hunters. This may have lead to their quick extinction in the Mediterranean (Simmons 1988). The same impact from human hunters may have been effective in at least accelerating extinction of Madagascan hippopotamids. MacPhee and Burney (1991) indicate evidence for hippopotamid butchery in south-western Madagascar as early as the 1st century AD. Co-occurrence of humans and hippopotamids on Madagascar, therefore, could have lasted for a minimum of 2,000 years. How much humans have contributed to this extinction is yet to be determined.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This species is now extinct.

Classifications [top]

0. Root -> 18. Unknown
suitability: Unknown season: unknown 

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education

Bibliography [top]

Burney, D. A. and Ramilisonina. 1999. The kilopilopitsofy, kidoky, and bokyboky: accounts of strange animals from Belo-Sur-Mer, Madagascar, and the megafaunal extinction window. American Anthropologist 100: 957-966.

Burney, D. A., Pigott, B. L., Godfrey, L. R., Jungers, W. L., Goodmane, S. M., Wright, H. T. and Jull, A. J. T. 2004. A chronology for late prehistoric Madagascar. Journal of Human Evolution: 25-63.

Dewar, R. E. 1984. Extinctions in Madagascar. The loss of the subfossil fauna. In: P. S. Martin and R. G. Klein (eds), Quaternary extinctions. A prehistoric revolution, pp. 574-593. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, USA.

Faure, M. and Guérin, C. 1990. Hippopotamus laloumena nov. sp., la troisième espèce d'hippopotame holocène de Madagascar. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences 310: 1299-1305.

Faure, M., Guérin, C. and Ohler, A.-M. 2015. Le statut du nom Hippopotamus madagascariensis Guldberg, 1883. Réponse à Rakotovao et al. 2014. Geodiversitas 37: 267-269.

Faure, M., Guérin, C., Genty, D., Gommery, D. and Ramanivosoa, B. 2010. Le plus ancien hippopotame fossile (Hippopotamus laloumena) de Madagascar (Belobaka, Province de Mahajanga). Comptes Rendus Palevol 9: 155-162.

Flacourt, E. 1661. Histoire de la grande isle de Madagascar. Pierre L'Amy, Paris, France.

Fovet, W., Faure, M. and Guérin, C. 2011. Hippopotamus guldbergi n. sp.: révision du statut d'Hippopotamus madagascariensis Guldberg, 1883, après plus d'un siècle de malentendus et de confusions taxonomiques. Zoosystema 33(1): 62-82.

Gommery, D., Ramanivosoa, B., Faure, M., Guérin, C., Kerloc’h, P., Sénégas, F. and Randrianantenaina, H. 2011. Les plus anciennes traces d’activités anthropiques de Madagascar sur des ossements d’hippopotames subfossiles d’Anjohibe (Province de Mahajanga). Comptes Rendus Palevol 10: 271-278.

IUCN. 2016. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2016-1. Available at: (Accessed: 30 June 2016).

MacPhee, R. D. E. and Burney, D. A. 1991. Dating of modified femora of extinct dwarf hippopotamus from southern Madagascar: implications for constraining human colonization and vertebrate extinction events. Journal of Archaeological Science 18: 695-706.

MacPhee, R.D.E. and Flemming, C. 1999. Requiem Aeternam. The last five hundred years of mammalian extinctions. In: R.D.E. MacPhee (ed.), Extinctions in Near Time, pp. 333-371. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, USA.

Rakotovao, M., Lignereux, Y., Orliac, M., Duranthon, F. and Antoine, P.-O. 2014. Hippopotamus lemerlei Grandidier, 1868 et Hippopotamus madagascariensis Guldberg, 1883 (Mammalia, Hippopotamidae) : anatomie crânio-dentaire et révision systématique. Geodiversitas 36: 117-161.

Simmons, A. H. 1988. Extinct pigmy hippopotamus and early man in Cyprus. Nature 333: 554-557.

Stuenes, S. 1989. Taxonomy, habits, and relationships of the subfossil Madagascan hippopotami Hippopotamus lemerlei and H. madagascariensis. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 9(3): 241-268.

Weston, E.M. and Lister, A.M. 2009. Insular dwarfism in hippos and a model for brain size reduction in Homo floresiensis. . Nature 459: 85-88.

Citation: Boisserie, J.-R. 2016. Hippopotamus lemerlei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T40782A90128915. . Downloaded on 28 July 2016.
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