When it comes to wildlife, the term ‘pygmy’ refers to animals that are smaller in size than their more typical counterparts. In many cases, these reduced measurements also result in them being unbelievably cute. However, we’ve rounded up six pygmy species from around the globe that are here to tell you, they’re not all about good looks. For instance, when it comes to threats such as habitat loss, hunting, and poaching, they’re just as susceptible as the rest. Here’s an opportunity to learn more about these relatively ‘pint-sized’ creatures, where to find them, and why they need our help.
And if some adorable wildlife images also happen to accompany the text? Well, that’s just icing on the cake…
Borneo Pygmy Elephant
The pygmy elephant is the smallest subspecies of Asian elephant, as well as one of the least-studied elephants in the world. These eye-catching animals are endemic to the Pacific island of Borneo, with only about 1,500 of them left in the wild. Most pygmy elephants live within the forests of Sabah, a Malaysian state occupying the island’s northern portion.
In the early 2000s, WWF used DNA evidence to determine that the elephants inhabiting northeast Borneo are their own genetically distinct subspecies, naturally isolated from other elephants hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Endowed with large ears, long tails, and round bellies, these pygmy elephants can grow up to 9.8 feet tall, and weigh 11,000 pounds—a size that’s about 20 to 30 percent less than their mainland cousins. Still, they remain Boreno’s largest land mammal and are known to be relatively tame and mild-tempered in comparison to other Asian elephants.
Today, threats to their remaining numbers include habitat loss—with at least a third of Borneo’s forest lost to deforestation due to increasing palm oil plantations, pulp plantations, and illegal logging—human-elephant conflicts, poaching, and reduced genetic diversity.
To help with the former, WWF launched Forests Forward, a corporate program that engages companies around the world, acting as a ‘one-stop-shop’ to help them reduce their forest footprint, and protect wildlife like Borneo pygmy elephants in the process.
Pygmy Mouse Lemurs
Like all other lemur primates, the tiny pygmy mouse lemur is only found in Madagascar, an African island country off the continent’s southeastern coast. They live mostly within western Madagascar’s dry forests and are protected by two national parks: Tsingy de Bemaraha and Tsingy de Namoroka.
With a head-and-body length of approximately 2.4 inches and a weight of less than two ounces, pygmy mouse lemurs are one of the smallest primates on the planet. These large-eyed solitary creatures forage the forest for fruit and insects at night and spend their days snoozing in tree holes or plain view.
They’re listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species, and at one point were even thought to be extinct entirely, until someone spotted one in the country’s Kirindy Forest in 1993.
Along with habitat loss, threats to this minuscule animal include their keeping as household pets.
By joining WWF’s own Adopt a Mouse Lemur program, you not only support global conservation efforts, but you get an adorable plush primate to boot!
A creature that can weigh up to 600 pounds and be anywhere from three-to-six feet long doesn’t sound small, but in the world of hippopotamuses, pygmy hippos are actually quite minuscule.
This reclusive and nocturnal mammal resides in the forests and swamplands of West Africa, in places like the Cestos-Senkwehn rivershed forests of southeastern Liberia, and Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest National Park. They’re difficult to spot in the wild—spending much of their days cooling off in the waters of rivers and swamps, and feeding on fruits, ferns, and grasses on land under darkness—a fact that also makes them hard to study in their natural habitat.
Shiny-skinned and pudgy-faced, they’re classified as endangered, with only about 2,000-2,500 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild. Their main threats include habitat loss and hunting.
Residing in the rainforests of South America’s western Amazon Basin, including those in Peru and Brazil, pygmy marmosets are the tiniest monkeys on the planet. They weigh less than four ounces and measure approximately six inches (head-to-body length) max, and tend to live together in troops of 2 to 9 members, way up in the jungle canopy.
Despite their pocket size, they have one enormous skill: the ability to leap over 30 times their body length while navigating the treetops. Their tales are longer than their bodies, and they’re extremely chatty, communicating with one another through a series of high-pitched sounds.
Pygmy marmosets get much of their nutrients from tree gum and have furry features resembling those of a squirrel. Unlike most primates, they don’t have opposable thumbs.
Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth
Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything cuter than a three-toed sloth, it turns out a pygmy version exists. The pygmy sloth makes its home in the red mangrove forests of Escudo de Veraguas, a small and isolated island off of Panama’s eastern coast.
Both slow-moving and tree-dwelling like their larger brethren, pygmy sloths are also excellent swimmers, utilizing the local waters as a way to get around. They’re also about 40 percent smaller than the brown-throated three-fingered sloths living on the country’s mainland.
With numbers estimated to be less than 100 (some calculations are as low as 48) just over a decade ago, the IUCN Red List has them listed as critically endangered, with threats including habitat loss and the presence of feral cats on the island.
While so very little and hard to spot in the ocean because they’re so well camouflaged, pygmy seahorses are also exceedingly captivating. Google a ‘pygmy seahorse’ and chances are you’ll be pouring over pics of this miniature sea creature all day.
Made up of several small-scale species that all measure less than an inch in length, pygmy seahorses make their home in the Coral Triangle, an area in the western Pacific Ocean that’s home to an incredibly rich diversity of marine life and coral. Here, they disguise themselves among seagrasses and gorgonians (sea fans), gliding along with their short snouts, long tails, and colorful tubercles (round nodules) looking for tiny crustaceans to eat.
Out of a handful of pygmy seahorses listed on The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, four are classified as ‘data deficient,’ meaning there’s not enough known about their population sizes to assess a true conservation status.
However, seahorses in general face threats from invasive species, climate change, and pollution, as well as their collection as curios and for aquariums and use in traditional medicines. To help fight some of these issues, WWF has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments worldwide to find ways to restore the health of our oceans, including the revival of critical coastal environments such as mangroves and coral reefs.