The elusive and endangered pygmy hippopotamus is alive and well in the forests of Liberia, new photographs have suggested.
Pygmy hippos are among the world's most secretive creatures and have survived two civil wars and deforestation devastating its habitat in the West African country.
The team of British conservationists, led by scientists from the Zoological Society of London, traveled to Sapo National Park in Liberia to try to spot the hippos.
Notoriously difficult to photograph, the experts set a network of camera traps in the national park and were astonished when the little animals were caught on film after only three days.
There are only thought to be around 3,000 pygmy hippos left in the wild in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.
Unlike their larger cousins, they do not spend their days in the water, but are nocturnal, resting during the day and coming out to feed at night.
"The pygmy hippo is an extraordinary creature that has almost never been seen in the wild," said ZSL's Dr. Ben Collen, who led the expedition. "ZSL identified it as a species in need of urgent conservation attention, and so we set out to previously war-torn Liberia, one of the species' last refuges, to search for survivors. We were delighted to discover the population still exists there."
The camera traps will remain in place in the Liberian jungle, as part of an ongoing monitoring campaign for the species.
This will provide an accurate population estimate and help with a future conservation plan.
"New advances in camera trapping methods are at the cutting edge of monitoring development, making it possible to measure trends in diversity, abundance and distribution of a broad range of terrestrial mammals and birds, including rare and elusive animals that have traditionally been difficult to study like the pygmy hippo," said Jill Nelson of the People's Trust for Endangered Species. "Camera trapping offers a non-intrusive, low-cost and effective means of monitoring species at risk."
Conservationists remain extremely concerned for the pygmy hippos, which still face significant threats from poaching and deforestation.
But the latest images have at least provided a glimmer of hope for a species that once appeared to have a gloomy future.