Pygmy hog with the scientific name Porcula Salvania is the smallest member of the pig family and one of the most threatened mammals in the world. They are even considered regionally extinct from Nepal. They were once found in Himalayan foothills from Uttar Pradesh in the west through Nepal to eastern India in the east. But a study discovered that the genus Porcula originally occurred in south & southeast Asia during the Late Pleistocene. Today, its small population is only found in Assam India.
The adult pygmy hog is eight inches tall with a body length of about 65 cm & weighs about 6.6-9.7 kg. They are often mistaken as juveniles of wild boars. Preferring undisturbed early successional tall alluvial grasslands, their presence actually indicates a healthy grassland ecosystem. They maintain the grassland ecosystem by digging the ground & enriching the soil. They feed plants, worms & insects, and in turn preyed upon by pythons, raptors & large carnivores. In this way, pygmy hog conservation is intrinsically essential in maintaining wet grassland ecosystems.
Degradation of its primary habitat – tall & wet grasslands of Terai plains driven mainly by anthropogenic threats – wiped out the species from its native range in Nepal. Possible threats are believed to be human settlement encroachment, haphazard burning of grassland, conversion into agricultural lands & livestock grazing. The species was last sighted in the 1970s from Trijuga, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve & Chitwan National Park. A paper published in 1964 mentioned the probable sighting of pygmy hogs in some Terai districts of the Far-Western region. Historically, pygmy hogs might have also occurred in Bardia National Park & Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve.
Although the species’ past existence & regional extinction is confirmed, an in-depth study has not been carried out yet. Additionally, the previous national population is obscure. One study suggested that there still exist potential habitats of pygmy hogs in the Terai plains of Nepal. If reintroduced, places like Bardia National Park, Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, Parsa Wildlife Reserve, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve & Banke Buffer zone can support the species survival. But, the ever-changing Terai grasslands incited by evolution along with anthropogenic threats add challenges.
In 2019, Community Conservation, an international non-profit fundraising organization conducted surveys to determine the presence of pygmy hog & to explore community-based conservation efforts for habitat protection in Nepal. With the help of local people, small nests probably made by small mammal species were found. Yet, the presence of pygmy hogs was not confirmed.
Besides Nepal, pygmy hogs almost went extinct & were rediscovered in the Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, India. With more than a decade of effective efforts on captive-breeding & reintroduction in the wild, the species populations have been marginally recovered in different protected areas in Assam, India. In contrast to this, the pygmy hog is now believed to be extinct from Bhutan due to a lack of effective conservation implementation. Parag Dega, project director of Pygmy Hog Conservation Program, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust advises that it has already been late to understand the species thoroughly, so conservation- breeding programs should be the first priority.
Despite challenges, Nepal can reestablish pygmy hogs for which comprehensive studies in assessing threats of its extinction have to be prioritized. This can also help in the restoration of potential habitats within the country. The importance of captive-breeding & reintroduction programs can’t be undermined as well. Indeed, national conservation strategies should be more comprehensive for the reestablishment of potential species, like pygmy hogs.