From a Correspondent
TANGLA, May 21: In an effort for conservation of Pygmy Hog in its tural habitat, six baby Pygmy Hogs (2-3 years old) that include three males and three females were released in Bordi Wildlife Sanctuary of Udalguri district on Saturday. The Pygmy Hogs were captive bred in Guwahati. Daniel Craven and his two colleagues from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust based in Jersey, were present on the occasion.
BTC secretary Rabinsan Musahary who was present, “The release of the Pigmy Hogs is a great step for the conservation of the species which is good news for the ture-loving people.”
HK Sarma, Director Mas tiol Park said, “Bordi provides very similar habitat for Pygmy Hogs as Mas. It is a timid animal. We have been successful in breeding it in Mas.”
Pygmy Hog is the world’s smallest and rarest suid and only a handful of people can ever claim to have seen it in the wild. It is 55 to 71 cm. long, weighs around eight to 11 kg and stands just 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) tall. The days when the pygmy hog was common along the foothill plains of the Himalaya in India, Bhutan and Nepal are long past.
By the 1980s, it was already known to be endangered with only two isolated population on record – in the Mas in Barpeta and Bordi Wildlife Sanctuary in Udalguri.
The pygmy hog featured in the first IUCN/WWF (1984) list of the 12 most threatened animal species in the world. The population in Bordi was believed to have been lost by 1981, due to extensive habitat burning, until a small number was rediscovered in 1990. However, no pygmy hog has been recorded there since 1994. By the mid-90s, the situation was so grim that it was classified as critically endangered by the Intertiol Union for the Conservation of ture (IUCN). But this was one species a small group of committed wildlife researchers and conservationists was just not ready to lose.
In 1995, a group of organizations, including the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust based in Jersey, Channel Islands, the IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, the Assam Forest Department and the Indian government, initiated the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP). PHCP researchers began a seven-year study of the pygmy hog to understand its conservation issues and suggest solutions to revive its population in the wild. The study initiated field study surveys to determine the species’ distribution, search for any other surviving remnt populations and identify suitable sites for future reintroduction. It also aimed at establishing a captive-breeding programme as a safeguard against extinction, as a source for reintroduction and as a beginning to long-term field studies on the pygmy hog’s behavioural-ecology and habitat magement requirements.
Dr Goutam rayan, a wildlife scientist who had earlier worked for the Bombay tural History Society, knew just how vital this project and its recommendations were as it presented the last hope for the pygmy hog. He therefore chose to dedicate his life to the resurrection of the species.
The pygmy hog is an important indicator species whose rapid disappearance is intricately linked to the degradation of Assam’s grasslands. Historically, its preferred habitat has been the tall, dense, riverine grassland areas where it feeds on roots, tubers and other vegetable matter and, occasiolly, insects, earthworms and other invertebrates. The modification and destruction of its habitat for agriculture, settlements including those by illegal immigrant settlers from Bangladesh and Nepal, overgrazing by cattle, thatch-grass harvesting, uncontrolled seasol burning and flood-control and forestry projects, had led to its systematic eradication.
The PHCP began its captive-breeding programme in 1996. Six animals were captured from the wild and bred in custom-built enclosures in Basistha in Assam, in environs as close to their tural habitat as possible. Their food was buried in the soil so they would learn to search for tubers and succulents as they would need to in wild grasslands.
Others present on the occasion were Dr Parag Jyoti Deka, Project Mager PHCP, Goutam rayan, Project Director PHCP, besides a handful of media persons.
The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust based in Jersey, Channel Islands, the IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, the Assam Forest Department and the BTC government initiated the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) and prelimiry survey regarding the same was conducted in 2014 as a part of which six Pygmy Hogs were released on Saturday. The six Pygmy Hogs are equipped with transmitter and their movements will be tracked.