LONDON, England (CNN) -- An endangered and secretive animal rarely seen in the wild has been caught on camera in West Africa.
A wild pygmy hippo filmed covertly in the wilds of Africa.
There are thought to be less than 3,000 pygmy hippos left in the wild, and there had been concern for their future because of wars, poaching and their habitat being destroyed.
Despite its size -- it can grow to almost six feet in length and weigh 300 pounds (136 kilograms) -- the pygmy hippo is one of the most elusive and secretive large mammals on the planet.
It is rarely seen in the wild where it survives in isolated pockets in rivers and swamps in the dense west African forests of countries including Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Experts from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) set up special hidden cameras in Liberia's only national park -- and the first images of the wild pygmy hippos were recorded within the first three days.
Working alongside Flora and Fauna International and Liberia's Forestry Development Agency, the ZSL team, led by Ben Collen, set up the extensive monitoring of Sapo National Park to try to discover how much the hippo had suffered from Liberia's brutal civil wars.
The team of British conservationists were astonished to discover the wild pygmy hippo had not been wiped out by the fighting as previously thought.
Pygmy hippos are much smaller in size and spend more time on land than their giant relatives, where they feed on leaves and other swamp vegetation.
Collen, ZSL research fellow, said: "The pygmy hippo is an extraordinary, mysterious creature that has almost never been seen in the wild.
"The ZSL's EDGE program 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 that a population still persists there, but remain highly concerned for the species, which continues to face significant threats from poaching and habitat degradation."
The camera traps will remain in place as part of an ongoing monitoring program for the species. The information from the monitoring programmer will be collated, together with information on threats to the species, to produce an accurate population estimate and conservation plan.
Collen added, "Following two devastating civil wars, scientifically driven conservation action is essential to the continued survival of this highly threatened species."
The pygmy hippo (hexaprotodon liberiensis) is classified on the IUCN Red List as endangered, with its rapid decline put down to habitat degradation and bushmeat hunting. E-mail to a friend