A total of 8 pygmy hogs were released in Assam’s Manas National Park on Tuesday.
It has been planned to release a total of 12 captive-bred pygmy hogs in Manas National Park by the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) at two phases – June 22 and June 25, 2021.
Of these, eight pygmy hogs were released on Tuesday in the Manas National Park.
“This is the second batch of pygmy hogs released in the park, after successful release of 14 pygmy hogs last year. By 2025, the PHCP plans to release a target of 60 pygmy hogs in Manas,” leading environmental NGO Aaranyak said in a statement.
The iconic species now returns to their home where their last original population still survives, albeit in declined numbers.
With this release, the total number of pygmy hogs reintroduced into the wild by the PHCP has reached to 142 (67 males, 75 females) which is more than their current original global wild population, it said.
In 1996, six hogs (2 male and 4 female) were captured from Bansbari range of Manas National Park to start the highly successful breeding programme.
Later, a young male rescued in 2001, and another male and two females captured in 2013 from the same range joined the captive breeding stock.
Reintroduction of captive hogs in the wild began in 2008.
Initially, three protected areas in their historical distribution range in Assam were selected for better protection and restoration of alluvial grasslands.
Over the next decade, 35 hogs (18 male, 17 female) were released in Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary, 59 (26 male, 33 female) in Orang National Park, and 22 (11 male, 11 female) in Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary.
“The reintroductions in Orang National Park have been particularly successful as they have multiplied almost two and a half times in number, and have spread to areas far from release locations,” the statement said.
As part of its re-wilding strategy, the PHCP will continue to maintain about 70 captive hogs at its two centres in Assam and breed more hogs for release, it said.
The pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) is the world’s smallest and rarest wild pigs, which are highly threatened.
It has been a tough year as the outbreak of both coronavirus and African Swine Fever have posed major challenges for the PHCP, and the successful release of the hogs.
Nonetheless, this release is a landmark achievement and is the key step on the road to the establishment of a new sub-population of pygmy hogs in Manas National Park.
It has been estimated that with the release of these 12 (5 male, 7 female) hogs in Rupahi grasslands in the Bhuyanpara range of Manas National Park, the total number of reintroduced hogs and their progeny may have reached 200 in the four release sites.
Amal Chandra Sarma, field director, Manas Tiger Reserve said, “In recent years, Manas is really doing well in conservation and with the release of these hogs in Bhuyanpara range, the hog population will be increased, and this may attract more visitors to the Park.”
Manas contains some of the largest remaining grassland habitats in the sub-Himalayan grassland ecosystems. Found only in these tall dense alluvial grasslands, pygmy hogs are incredibly shy and are almost never seen.
Dr Parag Jyoti Deka, project director, PHCP, said, “Conservation of pygmy hog was initiated by famous naturalist Gerald Durrell and his organization Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in 1971.”
The pygmy hog was brought back from extinction by this excellent partnership effort, and now we are moving towards the establishment of a population across the entire range.
“During the outbreak of African Swine Fever, conservation practitioners of many endangered pigs were looking up to us. I think, we have created a history and hope for conservation world,” said Deka.
Dr. Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar, Manas landscape administrator of Aaranyak, a key partner of the programme, said, “The park authority and conservation partners are jointly managing grassland, and if released pygmy hogs start breeding, it will indicate the success of grassland management.”
“Pygmy hog, being a heritage attribute, will also help restore the past glory of Manas,” he added.
Dr. Dhritiman Das, field scientist of PHCP, mentioned, “Apart from regular monitoring of reintroduced and wild pygmy hog, the programme has attempted to design best practice for grassland management through science-based actions as well as community interventions in Manas with active cooperation of partners.”