Considered extinct for over 40 years, the world's smallest hog is staging a comeback in the wild — or rather semi-wild in Assam’s Nameri National Park.
The pygmy hog was once found across India, Nepal and Bhutan. By the 1960s, it was believed to have gone the dodo way until two small populations were found in Manas National Park in 1971. Around 100 of the species, victims of poaching and habitat loss, were estimated to be alive then.
Durrell Wildlife, a zoo founded by naturalist and author Gerald Durrell in Jersey, UK, threw the animal a lifeline in 1995. It organized the capture of six pygmy hogs for a conservation programme with the World Conservation Union. The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) began at Basistha on the outskirts of this city a year later.
“The pygmy hog’s should go down as one of the world's most successful captive breeding programmes,” PHCP project director Goutam Narayan told HT. “In the past few years, we have bred 70 pygmy hogs; 10 of them will be introduced in a pre-release enclosure at Nameri National Park in two months' time.”
The 10 will be kept in the fenced-off pre-release site before their release in the adjoining Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary in 2008. What is worrying wildlife activists, though, is the large-scale encroachment in Sonai-Rupai.
Meanwhile, Durrell Wildlife has said DNA tests show the pygmy hog has a genetic structure different from other members of the pig family. Naturalists have subsequently proposed taking it off the family tree of the genus Sus salvanius and creating a new genus for it — Porcula salvanius.