Shrinkage and degradation of the grasslands of the Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary in Udalguri pose a serious threat to the survival of the critically-endangered pygmy hog.
It may be mentioned that the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust based in Jersey, Channel Island, the IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, the Assam Forest Department and the BTC government initiated the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) as part of which six pygmy hogs, which were captive-bred in Guwahati, were released in Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary on May 23, 2016 and eight pygmy hogs were released on May 31, 2017.
According to sources, currently, grassland constitutes barely 10 per cent of Barnadi’s habitat, with the existing grassland under increasing attack of invasive species such as Mimosa pudica, Chromolaena and Lantana camara.
“Even though we have reintroduced six captive-bred animals, long-term survival of the species seems bleak in view of the shrinking grassland. Unless there is effective grassland management, its future is uncertain,” a conservationist running the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme, had said.
Pygmy hog is the world’s smallest, rarest extant suid and endangered, and only a handful of people can ever claim to have seen it in the wild. It is 55 to 71 cm long weighing around eight to 11 kg and stands just 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) tall. The elusive pygmy hog that featured in the first IUCN/WWF
(1984) list of the 12 most threatened animal species in the world had catapulted Barnadi into global prominence following the rediscovery of the pygmy hog and hispid hare in 1971 (after both were thought to be extinct).
However, it has been claimed that no pygmy hog has been sited at Barnadi since 1994.
Despite the fact that Barnadi is a significant place, it presents a picture of neglect and apathy – as testified to by the absence of any scientific intervention for grassland preservation and management.
Expressing his concern over the grassland shrinkage in Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary, a forest official said, “We are concerned about the threat to the grassland in Barnadi. We have uprooted invasive weeds in a few locations. But we need more funds and logistics to intensify the process.”
The conservationists want timely intervention of the concerned authorities to save the pygmy hog population.
“The existing grassland habitat in Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary can support a pygmy hog population of around 150. But if it is not managed scientifically, things will worsen quickly as the invasive weeds are spreading rapidly,” stated the conservationist.
Manpower shortage and poor amenities have also affected the functioning of the wildlife sanctuary.
As per information, the sanctuary has only 20 staff members and seven camps.
As water shortage is a major problem in the area, only a couple of camps are manned by the forest personnel, sources said. Poor grassland management and attack of invasive species, mounting anthropogenic pressures have taken a toll on the sanctuary.
With croplands expanding right up to the boundaries of Barnadi, the sanctuary’s much-required buffer areas have vanished.
“Till 15 years back, there used to be a green buffer area along the southern boundary but that has disappeared as the land was allotted injudiciously by the government authorities for crop cultivation,” said Jayanta Das, a conservationist.
The 26.21-sq km sanctuary has also faced a serious issue of encroachment, with 4 sq km of its area remaining under illegal occupation.
The encroachment as per reports extends to almost one-sixth of the habitat.
“The encroached area has a human population of 2,178 in 436 houses. We are planning an eviction drive soon,” said the forest official.
Barnadi, which is among the oldest protected areas of the State, is situated in Udalguri district close to the international border with Bhutan.
It was declared a reserve forest in 1942 and was elevated to a sanctuary in 1980 to enhance long-term conservation prospects of the pigmy hog and the hispid hare.
Barnadi, which is also a part of the Manas Tiger Reserve, also gives shelter to elephant, tiger, leopard, black leopard, gaur, pangolin, capped langur, slow loris, sambar, barking deer, hog deer, wild dog, porcupine, etc., and a sizeable avian population, including four species of the hornbill, and migratory birds.
The wildlife sanctuary, which is also known for its scenic beauty, is bordered by river Barnadi and the Nalanadi to the west and east respectively.