Guwahati, May 18 : In continuation with conservation efforts of pygmy hogs, the world’s smallest wild pigs, 14 captive-bred pygmy hogs have been released in Manas National Park (MNP) in Assam. The pygmy hogs, released by the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) over two days on May 14 and 17, prior to release in Manas were maintained in the pre-release centre near Nameri National Park for six months. During the time of translocation from the centre to Manas, Assam State Zoo-cum-Botanical Garden DFO Tejas Mariswamy and Debashish Buragohain, Range Officer, Nameri National Park, were present.
This is a significant milestone in the effort to save one of the most endangered mammals in the world as the original wild stock for the conservation breeding project was captured from the same Park about 24 years ago. The species now returns to their home, where the original population still survives, albeit dramatically declined. With this, the number of pygmy hogs reintroduced into the wild by PHCP has reached 130 (62 males, 68 females) which is more than their current original global wild population. In 1996, six hogs (2 males, 4 females) were captured from the Bansbari range of MNPark to start the 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 past distribution range in Assam were selected for better protection and restoration of alluvial grasslands. Over the next decade, 35 hogs (18 males, 17 females) were released in Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary, 59 (26 males, 33 females) in Orang National Park, and 22 (11 males, 11 females) in Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary.
The reintroductions in Orange has been particularly successful as they have multiplied almost two and a half times in number, and have spread to the areas far from the release locations. It has been estimated that with the release of these 14 (6 males, 8 females) hogs in Rupahi grasslands in the Bhuyanpara range of MNP, the total number of reintroduced hogs and their progeny may have reached 200 in the four release sites. About 60 hogs will be released over a 5-year period in the Bhuyanpara range from where they had disappeared. The Chief Wildlife Warden and the Additional PCCF, Assam, MK Yadav said, “Amidst the crisis of African Swine Fever we decided to secure the future of the Pygmy hogs. One of the first things is to release them in a secure place such as Manas.”
Manas Field Director Amal Chandra Sarma added, “The old glory of Manas seems to be coming back with the release of these hogs in Bhuyan Para range and this may attract more visitors to the Park.” In the meanwhile, PHCP will continue to maintain about 70 captive hogs at its two centres in Assam and breed more hogs for release. Manas contains some of the largest remaining grassland blocks 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, “Tracking both wild and released animals is normally achieved by monitoring their nests, droppings or foraging marks and through radio telemetry. Pygmy hog is one of the few mammals that construct a ‘house’ (nests) which is used by small groups. Large number of camera traps are being deployed carefully to capture their images, identify marked individuals and to find out if babies are being produced.” PHCP founder and advisor Dr Goutam Narayan added, “Adhering to IUNC reintroduction protocol, PHCP aims to release pygmy hogs in suitable grasslands of Manas where the species does not currently exist and only in areas that are not directly connected to the locations holding wild pygmy hogs.”
Dr Dhritiman Das, Field Scientist of PHCP, further said, “The project developed a holistic approach as part of the Rewilding Plan for Pygmy Hog Conservation for recovery of biodiversity-rich grasslands of Manas. Focusing on three different grasslands blocks of Manas the programme actively collaborates with the Assam Forest Department in species management, community engagement and threatened species recovery to restore grassland diversity.” The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) is a collaborative effort involving as key partners Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN/SSC Wild Pig Specialist Group, Assam Forest Department, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, EcoSystems-India and Aaranyak. (UNI)