Reintroduced pygmy hogs thrive a year after release
The reintroduction of the world's smallest and rarest pig, in Assam's Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary, is going extremely well after its first year, according to conservationists at Durrell.
Most of the pygmy hogs (Porcula salvania) reintroduced in Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary by the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) in May 2008 appear to have survived a year after their release into the wild.
Ground surveys and camera video-trapping suggest that up to two-thirds of the 16 pygmy hogs (7 males, 9 females) released in an area of Sonai Rupai grassland are thriving. At least one of the two pregnant females had farrowed successfully after release, and tracks of young pygmy hogs were detected in the grassland in June/July 2008.
To augment the reintroduced population, a second release of three social groups comprising 14 captive bred hogs (5 males, 9 females) is planned in the Sanctuary in May 2009. These hogs are being prepared for survival in the wild in simulated habitats in large enclosures at the PHCP ‘pre-release’ facility in Potasali, Nameri Tiger Reserve, since December last year. They will be shifted in consequetive batches to temporary ‘soft-release’ enclosures in Sonai Rupai for a week before being allowed to go out into the wild later this month.
The conservation breeding of pygmy hogs by PHCP began at its Basistha research and breeding centre near Guwahati in 1996, using seven (3 males, 4 females) wild hogs captured under permit from their last surviving population in Manas National Park, Assam.
William Oliver, Chair of the IUCN-SSC Pigs, Peccaries & Hippos Specialist Group, who has been working to save the species from extinction for the last 30 years and who initiated the collaborative conservation programme, said: “The practice of indiscriminate dry season annual burning and uncontrolled livestock grazing threatens the last surviving wild population of pygmy hogs in Manas and, if continued, will doubtless also affect many other threatened and sensitive grassland species”. Unfortunately, the burning and livestock grazing situation in most pygmy hog grasslands in Manas is worsening.
According to Prof. John Fa, Director of Conservation Science at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust: “The successful establishment of new populations of this species is the culmination of the hard work of a number of organisations to save this animal from extinction, and the survival of the first batch of pigs bodes well for the future”.
PHCP is a collaborative project of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Durrell), IUCN/SSC PPHSG, Forest Department of the Government of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment & Forests of the Government of India.
The programme is financially supported by Durrell, Darwin Initiative and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. EcoSystems-India, the local partner organisation of Durrell and PPHSG, is assisting PHCP implement its activities in Assam and is working closely with local communities and other stakeholders to improve awareness about the species and the management of its grassland habitat.
The pygmy hog, (Porcula salvania, earlier known to science as Sus salvanius), is the world’s smallest and rarest wild pig and most threatened by extinction. It stands about 25 cm from the ground and weighs 6 to 9 kg. The species was originally found in the narrow belt of tall alluvial grasslands that runs across the southern edge of the Himalayas in the Indian subcontinent.
Tall alluvial grass habitats, being very rich in nutrients, are highly suitable for cultivation and therefore came under significant pressures from expanding human populations, agriculture and uncontrolled harvesting; all of which caused disappearance of this highly sensitive species. Currently, indiscriminate grass burning, livestock grazing, commercial forestry operations and human encroachment are the greatest threats to this species, which has already been extirpated throughout the remainder of its known recent range in north-western Assam and neighbouring states.
The breeding facility at Basistha currently holds 41 adults (19 males, 22 females) and at least seven new litters are expected in May-June 2009. Dr. Goutam Narayan, PHCP Project Director, pointed out that soft release routine has allowed the 14 hogs in three separate ‘pre-release’ enclosures to be conditioned to face the wild environment with greatly reduced human contact and enhanced opportunities to forage naturally. The simulated grassland habitat in these large enclosures has helped the hogs to display other natural behaviours.
PHCP continues to work closely with Sonai Rupai authorities to improve protection and management and to control annual dry season burning of grass. Frontline staff of the Sanctuary have also been trained in wildlife monitoring and habitat management under a Darwin Initiative training course conducted in collaboration with Zoological Society of London.
The pygmy hog is a highly sensitive indicator for its grassland habitat, which is crucial for the survival of a number of other endangered species such as the swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli), wild buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus) and Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis). The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme acts as an umbrella for extensive work with both the habitats and their surrounding communities. It is hoped that through this project and the release of hogs, we can support local communities to sustainably manage their natural resources and protect their unique biodiversity.
Posted 8 May 2009