Goutam Narayan, Ph.D. holds a one month old Pygmy Hog, SIMON DE TREY-WHITE/BARCROFT MEDIA LTD

Who would imagine that in the habitat of elephants, tigers, and rhinos, the worlds smallest wild hog is the animal thatis determining where the conservation dollars go?

Like the keystone in an arch that holds all of the others in place, the endangered pygmy hog of North India is the keystone species of the Terai grasslands, and while those other large mammals can live elsewhere, the hog cannot. Therefore you have a scenario where protecting a 10-inch tall pig has the additional advantage of protecting the 300-pound creatures and 8-ton elephants.

Presumed extinct until it was discovered in 1971 in the Indian state of Assam with a tea plantation worker, it wasn’t until the 1990s that conservationists started breeding the pygmy hogs in captivity.

Fortunately the hogs, which represent the last living species in the genus porcula, breed like, well, pigs, and now between 300-400 are roaming the Terai grasslands again—while another 74 stay in captivity awaiting reintroduction.

This is all down to the work of the Pygmy Hog Conservation Program, (PHCP) established at the ’90s by Gerald Durrell of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Pygmy Hog Conservation Program

Between 2008-2020, National Geographic reports, the PHCP released 130 wild hogs to two national parks, Manas and Orang, as well as two wildlife sanctuaries, Barnadi and Sonai Rupai. All four of these are found in the state of Assam, as thats where the special grassland habitat for the pygmy hogs require are available.

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Grassland ecosystems often contain one or more species which act as regulators or engineers who keep the system healthy. Lemmings or other rodents constantly aerate the soil through the digging, while grazers such as bison or wildebeest constantly trim the tall grass species, allowing light to reach the smaller blades.

Pygmy hogs play a role like this in the Terai grasslands. They split up grasses to produce small thatched nests over depressions in the ground, and the paths and corridors they make one of the grass stalks help create space for light and for other plant species to grow, and of course useful ready-made highways for other animals.

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If the Terai grasslands can be protected from grazing animals and fires, there’s no doubt that the hog will become a frequent sight once more.

(WATCH the Smithsonian video about pygmy hogs below.)

VIDEO

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