Cyprus dwarf hippopotamus
|Cyprus dwarf hippo
Temporal range: Pleistocene to Holocene, 0.781–0.010 Ma
|A composite mounted skeleton of Hippopotamus minor|
The 200-kilogram (440-lb) Cyprus dwarf hippo was roughly the same size as the extant pygmy hippopotamus. Unlike the modern pygmy hippo, the Cyprus dwarf became small through the process of insular dwarfism. This same process is believed to cause the dwarfism found in some dwarf elephants, the pygmy mammoth, and Homo floresiensis. The animal is estimated to have measured 76 cm tall and 121 cm long.
Hippopotamus minor is the smallest hippopotamus of all known insular hippopotamuses. The extremely small size of the hippo is in favour of a Middle Pleistocene or perhaps even Early Pleistocene colonization. At the time of its extinction between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago, the Cyprus dwarf hippo was the largest animal on the island of Cyprus. It was a herbivore and had no natural predators.
Many scientists maintain the name Phanourios minor for the Cypriot dwarf hippo. This generic name was given by Paul Sondaar and Bert Boekschoten in 1972, based on the remains from Agios Georgios, Cyprus. At the site, a chapel had been built into the fossiliferous rocks. The rock strata here are very rich in bone content (bone breccia). For centuries, as already mentioned by Bordone in the 16th century, villagers have gone there to collect these bones, which in their opinion are holy, because they are the petrified remains of Saint Fanourios (see also Phanourios (saint)), a Greek Orthodox Saint who, according to local myth, had fled from Syria to escape his persecutors, but had been stranded on the hostile rocky coast of Cyprus. The collected bones are ground into a powder believed to have medicinal powers. To honour the local tradition and to refer to the site, Sondaar and Boekschoten named their new genus Phanourios, following the Greek spelling. They gave the specific name minutus, but this was later changed to minor following rules of priority.
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