Petite pigs go public
Tuesday 3 June 2008
Despite once thought to be extinct, the world's smallest and rarest species of wild pig is making a return to the wild, thanks to conservation work supported by ZSL.
At most only a few hundred pygmy hogs (Porcula salvania) are thought to remain. Standing around 25-30 cm tall and weighing up to 9kg, the tiny rare pigs are only found in India's north-eastern state of Assam.
But after a decade of successful breeding in captivity, Assam Forest officials and experts from the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme have just started releasing them into the wild.
Their 12 year long conservation effort began with six wild pygmy hogs. The team has just released 16 hogs into the Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary, about 110 miles north of the state capital, Guwahati.
MC Malakar, Assam's chief wildlife warden, said: ‘This is a great day in the history of animal conservation throughout the world and we are proud of the achievement.’
Dr Goutam Narayan of Durrell Wildlife and EcoSystems-India is the man credited with the success of the programme. He said:
‘By 1964, the pygmy hog was thought to be extinct with no sightings reported for several years. Then in 1971, four pygmy hogs were recovered from a market in Paneri in north Assam and that gave everyone cause for hope.
‘The present 16 animals are the result of the only captive population of the species in the world.
It is estimated that there could be fewer than 400 pygmy hogs in the world, all of them are in Assam's Manas national park in the foothills of Bhutan.
It was at Manas that six pygmy hogs were captured in 1996 and the conservation programme was started.
Dr Narayan explained that the release process is very carefully done: ‘The hogs are going through a soft release process. We have kept them in an enclosure in the Sonai Rupai grasslands.
‘After a while, we will open the gates of the enclosures and let them out in the wilds, but will closely monitor them.’
Once they are out in the wild the pygmy hogs will be threatened by their natural predators, pythons and tigers. However they will have to face a much bigger threat: the destruction of their grassland habitats by man.
Experts say that human encroachment has swallowed up the majority of the pygmy hogs' preferred grassland habitat across the southern foothills of the Himalayas.
‘It's a great loss of habitat,’ said William Oliver, chairman of the Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
‘Ceaseless population expansion have diminished those habitats to a few isolated fragments and those isolated fragments are susceptible to other forms of disturbance like annual dry season burning and livestock grazing.’
The team behind the release achieved their success with support from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), a Jersey-based conservation organisation started by naturalist Gerald Durrell.