The greyish brown pygmy hog (Porcula salvania), with its sparse hair and a streamlined physique that’s about the dimension of a cat’s, is the smallest wild pig in the world, and in addition one in every of its rarest, showing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as endangered.
Named after the sal grasslands the place they have been first discovered, they as soon as thrived in the lush plains of the sub Himalayas from Nepal to Uttar Pradesh. However right this moment, there are regarded as lower than 300 in the wild, in Assam, India.
The pygmy hog’s habitat has more and more come underneath stress from human encroachment, overgrazing and the clearing of land for agriculture. “The pygmy hog is the first to vanish when the habitat modifications, in contrast to its cousin the wild boar which adapts properly to modifications in its surroundings,” says Dr Goutam Narayan, undertaking adviser at the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP).
“Although we are likely to give attention to conservation of habitats for giant iconic animals like the rhino, small animals like the pygmy hog are nice barometers of habitat, and we must always handle these eco-sensitive animals higher. They draw our consideration to even minute modifications in the grasslands, a lot earlier than the bigger species,” he provides.
In the Sixties, the pygmy hog was regarded as extinct, earlier than it was “rediscovered” by a tea property supervisor in 1971. Early makes an attempt to introduce captive breeding failed till 1995, when the PHCP was established by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Belief, the IUCN Wild Pig Specialist Group, Assam’s forest division and India’s surroundings ministry.
The organisation arrange a captive breeding programme with the purpose of reintroducing the animals into the wild.
“The profitable captive breeding began with six hogs caught in Manas reserve in Assam,” says Parag Deka, PHCP’s undertaking director, a veterinary scientist who joined the programme in 1997 as an intern. “Reintroduction of the captive hogs into the wild started in 2008, with 16 pygmy hogs launched into the Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary,” he provides.
At the PHCP’s Assam headquarters in Basistha, the animals are bred and finally launched into Orang, Sonai-Rupai, and Bornadi wildlife sanctuaries. Earlier than they’re launched into the wild, the hogs are stored in a particular facility for 5 months.
“The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Belief has expertise of bringing again a number of species from the brink of extinction, like the Madagascar teal and the Rodrigues fruit bat, and complicated strategies of captive breeding are adopted, studying from the species and fulfilling their necessities in the wild,” says Deka.
“We make it possible for the pygmy hogs stay with minimal human contact, their supplementary weight loss plan is lowered to fifteen% and so they study to forage and construct social relations with different hogs, earlier than they’re launched into the wild. About 12 hogs a yr are launched.”
An omnivore that feeds on tubers, fruit, grass, bugs, eggs and small reptiles, the pygmy hog is one in every of the few mammals in the world that truly builds a home – a shallow despair in the earth lined with vegetation and even a roof of branches.
As soon as reintroduced into the wild, nevertheless, protecting observe of the hogs isn’t any straightforward activity. “They’re extraordinarily shy and elusive creatures and it’s virtually not possible to sight them throughout area work,” says Narayan.
“With the assist of digital camera traps in addition to monitoring their droppings and footprints, we handle to maintain observe of the hogs, and proof of breeding,” provides Deka. “We made a number of makes an attempt to develop higher monitoring methods and now use a coin-sized implant.”
The grasslands which are their habitat shield forest lands from floods and supply fodder for livestock. “We work with native communities and the forest division in correct administration of grasslands, limiting overgrazing and suggesting options to burning the total grasslands,” says Deka.
“Burning of grassland to encourage contemporary progress throughout the dry season is the biggest menace to pygmy hogs, as they want thick cowl and construct grass nests all through the yr.”
The PHCP’s purpose, says Deka, is that by 2025, on the a hundredth anniversary of British naturalist Gerald Durrell’s beginning, “the ecosystem will likely be restored, and the pygmy hog can thrive as soon as once more in these grasslands”.
“The aim of my life has been bringing again this one species from the brink of extinction,” he provides.
The PHCP is optimistic that the objective will likely be reached however, says Narayan: “Although we’ve these milestones to realize we additionally want to concentrate on the varied constraints – social and people-related points which are interconnected with the conservation of the pygmy hog, from encroachment to supporting native livelihoods.
“Our try is to sensitise the neighborhood to conserving these final remaining pockets of grasslands, that are necessary habitats for not solely the pygmy hogs, however for a lot of different animals and birds.”