TThe grayish brown pygmy pig (Little pig salvation), with its sparse hair and a streamlined body that is about the size of a cat, it is the smallest wild pig in the world, and also one of the rarest, appearing in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as endangered.
Named after the salt meadows where they were first found, they once thrived on the lush plains of the sub Himalayas from Nepal to Uttar Pradesh. But today, there are believed to be fewer than 300 in the wild, in Assam, India.
Pygmy pig habitat has been increasingly affected by human encroachment, overgrazing, and clearing of land for agriculture. “The pygmy pig is the first to disappear when habitat changes, unlike its cousin the wild boar, which adapts well to changes in its environment,” says Dr. Goutam Narayan, project advisor to the Pig Conservation Program. pygmy (PHCP).
“Although we tend to focus on conserving habitats for large iconic animals like the rhinoceros, small animals like the pygmy pig are great barometers of habitat, and we should better manage these eco-sensitive animals. They draw our attention to even minimal changes in the grasslands, long before the larger species, ”he adds.
In the 1960s, the pygmy pig was thought to be extinct, before it was “rediscovered” by a tea farm manager in 1971. The first attempts to introduce captive breeding failed until 1995, when the PHCP was established. by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the IUCN Wild Pig Specialist Group, Assam Forest Department and Indian Ministry of the Environment.
The organization launched a captive breeding program with the aim of reintroducing the animals into the wild.
“Successful captive breeding started with six pigs captured in the Manas reserve in Assam,” says Parag Deka, PHCP project manager, a veterinary scientist who joined the program in 1997 as an intern. “The reintroduction of captive pigs into the wild began in 2008, with 16 pygmy pigs released at the Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary,” he adds.
At the PHCP’s Assam headquarters in Basistha, the animals are raised and eventually released at the Orang, Sonai-Rupai and Bornadi wildlife sanctuaries. Before being released into the wild, the pigs are kept in a special facility for five months.
“The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has experience in bringing various species to the brink of extinction, such as the Madagascar teal and the Rodrigues fruit bat, and sophisticated captive breeding methods are followed, learning from the species and meeting their requirements in the nature, ”says Deka.
“We ensure that pygmy pigs live with minimal human contact, their complementary diet is reduced to 15% and they learn to forage and socialize with other pigs, before being released into the wild. About 12 pigs are released a year. “
An omnivore that feeds on tubers, fruits, grass, insects, eggs, and small reptiles, the pygmy pig is one of the few mammals in the world that actually builds a house – a shallow depression in the land lined with vegetation and even a branch ceiling.
However, once reintroduced into the wild, keeping track of pigs is not an easy task. “They are extremely shy and elusive creatures and it is almost impossible to see them during field work,” says Narayan.
“With the help of camera traps, in addition to tracking their droppings and tracks, we were able to track the pigs and the breeding evidence,” adds Deka. “We made several attempts to develop better tracking systems and now we are using an implant the size of a coin.”
The grasslands that are their habitat protect forest lands from flooding and provide fodder for livestock. “We work with local communities and the forest department on proper grassland management, restricting overgrazing and suggesting alternatives to burning all grasslands,” says Deka.
“Burning grasslands to stimulate fresh growth during the dry season is the biggest threat to pygmy pigs, as they need thick cover and build grass nests throughout the year.”
The goal of the PHCP, says Deka, is that by 2025, on the centenary of the birth of British naturalist Gerald Durrell, “the ecosystem will be restored and the pygmy pig will once again be able to thrive in these grasslands.”
“The purpose of my life has been to bring back this species that is on the verge of extinction,” he adds.
The PHCP is optimistic that the goal will be reached, but, says Narayan: “Although we have these milestones to achieve, we must also be aware of the various constraints – social and people-related issues that are interconnected with pygmy pig conservation. from usurpation to supporting local livelihoods.
“Our attempt is to sensitize the community to the conservation of these last remaining grassland foci, which are important habitats not only for pygmy pigs, but for many other animals and birds.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism