The Pygmy Hog is the smallest, rarest and most highly specialized member of the pig family. It was formerly known to occur across a narrow strip of early successional tall grassland plains along the southern Himalayan foothills in the Indian subcontinent. Although it was described from north Bengal in 1847, all recent reports refer only to N.W. Assam where the species was 'rediscovered' in 1971 after it was long suspected to have become extinct. By the time the recovery programme was launched in 1995, the species was reduced to a single declining wild population of a few hundred hogs in the Manas National Park, with no individual in captivity anywhere in the world.
The reasons for pygmy hog's disappearance were largely related to extensive destruction and degradation of grassland habitat due to rapid expansion of human settlements and farming activities. A few pockets of suitable grassland still exist in some Protected Areas but most of them are currently threatened due to one or more of the following reasons: (i) unsustainable livestock grazing; (ii) indiscriminate dry season burning of grass; (iii) unsustainable thatch grass and minor forest produce collection; (iv) flash floods caused by natural or artificial dams; (v) illegal trapping or snaring for bush meat. All these problems except flash floods are caused by unscientific habitat management or lack of adequate protection.
With the support of SOS - Save Our Species, EcoSystems-India will be carrying out activities crucial to the conservation of the Pygmy Hog in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the SSC Wild Pig Specialist Group. The project will aim to maintain about 60 captive hogs at two places in Assam (as insurance against the possible early extinction of the species in the wild), while breeding selected hogs to raise about 20 new hogs every year. From this captive bred population, 14 will be prepared for independent survival in the wild, eventually to be released in restored, well managed and protected grasslands in Assam.
Project staff will also assess grassland habitats, monitor the hogs at the release sites and collaborate on relevant genetic studies on the species.
The primary goal of the project is to promote recovery of the species and to reduce its population decline further. The short-term objective of the project is to reintroduce Pygmy Hogs at three locations and create two captive populations.
In addition to preserving one of the most biodiversity rich habitat in the subcontinent, this will also help in maintaining long term ecological and economic well-being of the region as these wet grasslands serve as buffer against floods in rainy season while maintaining high groundwater levels in dry season, indirectly benefiting farming communities living in the fringe areas.