A highlight of seven years living and working in India was a brief visit to Assam to review the land holdings of an investor who was considering having us assist with the development of a conservation-focused lodge. I did not know about this endangered species at the time, but its current status brings a good vibe to my day for more than one reason:
The greyish brown pygmy hog (Porcula salvania), with its sparse hair and a streamlined body that is about the size of a cat’s, is the smallest wild pig in the world, and also one of its rarest, appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as endangered.
Named after the sal grasslands where they were first found, they once thrived in the lush plains of the sub Himalayas from Nepal to Uttar Pradesh. But today, there are thought to be less than 300 in the wild, in Assam, India.
The pygmy hog’s habitat has increasingly come under pressure from human encroachment, overgrazing and the clearing of land for agriculture. “The pygmy hog is the first to disappear when the habitat changes, unlike its cousin the wild boar which adapts well to changes in its environment,” says Dr Goutam Narayan, project adviser at the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP).
“Though we tend to focus on conservation of habitats for large iconic animals like the rhino, small animals like the pygmy hog are great barometers of habitat, and we should manage these eco-sensitive animals better. They draw our attention to even minute changes in the grasslands, much before the larger species,” he adds.
In the 1960s, the pygmy hog was thought to be extinct, before it was “rediscovered” by a tea estate manager in 1971. Early attempts to introduce captive breeding failed until 1995, when the PHCP was established by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the IUCN Wild Pig Specialist Group, Assam’s forest department and India’s environment ministry.
The organisation set up a captive breeding programme with the aim of reintroducing the animals into the wild.
“The successful captive breeding started with six hogs caught in Manas reserve in Assam,” says Parag Deka, PHCP’s project director, a veterinary scientist who joined the programme in 1997 as an intern. “Reintroduction of the captive hogs into the wild began in 2008, with 16 pygmy hogs released into the Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary,” he adds…
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