The story of the world’s smallest hog

In the 1960’s, the tiny pygmy hog had declined to such an extent that the species was thought to be extinct. Following a fire in the Barnardi Forest Reserve in 1971,  a group of hogs were found seeking refuge in a nearby tea plantation. The plantation owner took these mini pigs into captivity to protect them from local hunters and called on the assistance of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (formally the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust) to advise on managing the newly formed captive population.

Rediscovery of the hogs sparked keen conservation interest and in 1977, Durrell staff member William Oliver, who later became the world expert on pygmy hogs, began conducting surveys to establish the distribution and status of the species. Further groups of pygmy hogs were found surviving in the Barnardi Forest Reserve as well as the Manas National Park and other isolated areas of northern Assam. Sadly, the due to pressures on the grasslands the species continued to decline and in 1995 only one viable wild population survived in Manas National Park.

Radio-tracking wild hogs in Manas National Park

William Oliver continued his studies for the next forty years and in an effort to promote the conservation of the pygmy hog in Assam he established the first IUCN pig, peccaries and Hippos specialist group, later renamed as the Wild Pig Specialist group, which he chaired for 32 years.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of William and local partners it was recognised that without immediate conservation intervention the species was at risk of extinction. In 1995 key partners came together to form the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP). The first steps of the newly formed programme was to implement priority activities outlined in a species action plan developed previously by William Oliver at the request of the Government of India. These included establishing a viable captive-breeding programme to provide animals for release into the wild, and intensive research to further our knowledge of the species requirements to persist in the wild.

PYGMY HOGS, WORLDS

Over the last 20 years intensive conservation efforts led by the PHCP has successfully increased the number of sub-populations in the wild and increased the species range, reducing, but not eliminating, the immediate risk of extinction of the pygmy hog in the wild.