Threatened Species Recovery Programme (TSRP)
The Threatened Species Recovery Programme (TSRP) was established in 2018 in the aegis of partnership between Durrell Wildlife Conservation trust (www.durrell.org) and Aaranyak. The first cornerstone project undertaken by TSRP is the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP – www.pygmyhog.org), a long-term collaborative project of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN/SSC Wild Pig Specialist Group, Forest Department – Govt. of Assam, and the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Changes – Govt. of India. Besides Aaranyak, the EcoSystems-India is another local partner in the project. This species recovery programme involves conservation breeding, habitat restoration and reintroduction of critically endangered pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) in Sub Himalayan grassland, particularly in Assam, since 1996.
The Pygmy Hog:
The smallest and the rarest member of pig family, pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) belongs to a unique monospecific genus with no surviving close relative. It is one of the few mammals in the world that constructs a ‘house’ or nest to live. Unfortunately, the species is at the brink of extinction, as it has been exterminated from most of it original range in India and Nepal. In the past, it was found in a narrow strip of tall and wet grassland plains in the Sub Himalayan grassland. Currently, it is restricted to a single viable population in the wild in Manas Tiger Reserve and three reintroduced populations in Orang National Park, Sonai Rupai and Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuaries, all in north-western Assam. Current population estimates in Manas shows a declining trend as only about 200 hogs, or almost half the numbers estimated in mid-1990s, may survive in the last original population. Conservation efforts since 1996 have however put the species on the path of recovery – about 60-70 hogs are maintained and bred in captivity and 116 captive-bred hogs have been reintroduced in the wild since 2008 in three protected areas. The species is categorises as ‘Critically Endangered’ by IUCN and is listed in the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.
Threats and Importance of Pygmy Hog in Sub Himalayan Grassland:
The main threats to survival of pygmy hog are loss and degradation of habitat due to human settlements, agricultural encroachment, flood control schemes, and improper management. Some management practices, such as planting of trees in the grasslands and indiscriminate use of fire to create openings and to promote fresh growth of grass, have caused extensive damage to the habitats the authorities intend to protect.
The survival of pygmy hogs is closely linked to the existence of the tall, wet grasslands of the region which, besides being a highly threatened habitat itself, is also crucial for survival of a number endangered species such as the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), tiger (Panthera tigris), eastern barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi), water buffalo (Bubalus arnee), hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus) and Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis). The pygmy hog is one of the most useful indicators of current wildlife management practices in these habitats as it has disappeared from
Major activities under the PHCP programme:
Field surveys, conservation breeding after capturing founders from the wild, preparing the captive hogs in a semi-wild facility, proper grassland management and restoration at the release sites, reintroduction and monitoring of released populations, biological and behavioural studies in captivity, and conservation education and action in the fringe areas of Manas and release sites. Recommendations for the better conservation of the remnant and reintroduced hog populations and scientific management of grassland habitats in selected areas of Assam have also been submitted to the relevant authorities and have been included in the various published and unpublished reports of the programme. The conservation breeding initiative started in late 1995 with the construction of the Research and Breeding Centre Basistha, on the outskirts of Guwahati city in Assam.The ‘pre-release’ facility was established at Potasali near Nameri National Park in 2004 to prepare the captive-bred hogs for release into wild.
Activities undertaken by PHCP in 2018:
- Conservation breeding, an integral part PHCP, is aimed to continue healthy captive population of pygmy hogs as a source for individuals for reintroduction every year. To achieve this goal hogs were paired in December 2017 under a small population management plan and maintained at the two centres. Currently about 75 pygmy hogs are being maintained in captivity by PHCP and this represented the global captive population of the species.
- A group of six captive-bred pygmy hogs were released in Bornadi in June 2018. Reintroduction is a continuous process under PHCP and 116 pygmy hogs in 23 social groups have been released the wild at three different sites since 2008.
- Trial of intra-abdominal radio implant in reintroduced hogs was successfully done in hogs for their long-term monitoring in the field. All the released hogs are constantly radio tracked in Bornadi.
- Research and Monitoring Planning workshop for pygmy hog was prepared in June 2018 with project personnel and scientists from Durrell.
- IUCN SSC Species Action Plan workshop for pygmy hog in November 2018 was successfully conducted.
- One of the main tasks of PHCP was spearheading the grassland habitat restoration efforts in Bornadi. Removing Chromolaena and Mimosa along with woody species to maintain grassland patches is a major activity of the project. For better understanding of different treatment intervention, experimental plots are being set up in Bornadi. PHCP also assisted in the removal of trees from the grassland of the RG Orang National Park. Additionally, the project also participated in controlled early burning of grasslands in Bornadi and Orang early this year.
- Systematic Camera Trapping is being carried out from later part of this year to assess the status of wild pygmy hogs in Kuribeel area of Manas that may hold the last original population of the species on earth.
- A pair of pygmy hog was taken to a custom-built enclosure in Assam State Zoo, Guwahati, in February this year to continue the public display for generating awareness. The zoo is the only one in the world displaying the species.
Future plans and Road ahead:
- As part of “Rewilding Strategy” of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, a 10 years long term plan for rewilding sub Himalayan grassland of Manas National Park is in the process of development, with the vision of: “The revived grasslands of Manas National Park are home to a thriving wildlife community and act as a model of sub Himalayan grassland ecosystem restoration”.
- Under this strategic plan, number of initiatives will be formulated and actions will be carried out.
- Long term Research and Monitoring goals had been set up for the program. This will lead to methodical monitoring of wild populations of hogs in Manas, monitoring of reintroduced animals, habitat suitability and viability analysis of pygmy hog, and other essential research on the grassland habitat and the species.
Support and Collaboration:
Donor: Clarkson Jersey Charitable Trust and Disney Conservation Fund.
Collaborating Organization: Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, IUCN/SSC Wild Pig Specialist Group, Forest Department – Govt. of Assam, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Changes – Govt. of India, and EcoSystems-India.
Park Mangers & frontline Staff: Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuaries, RG Orang National Park, Manas National Park and Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Jonmani Kalita, Jr. Field Biologist of TSRP; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile: +91 86380442919, +91 9531317759.
Pygmy Hog Research and Breeding Centre, Indira Nagar, Basistha, Guwahati, Assam 781029.
Pygmy Hog Pre-release Centre, Near Nameri National Park Range Office, Potasali, Gamani, Sonitpur, Assam 784102.
Pygmy Hog Reintroduction Field Station, Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary, Range Office Complex, Rajagarh, Dimakuchi, Assam 784526.