New hope for near extinct pygmy hog species as programme to breed them in Manas National Park gets a filip

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Guwahati, Jun 23 (PTI) Amidst the tall elephant grass of the Manas National Park, pygmy hogs, the worlds smallest and rarest wild pigs, may get a new lease of life as an experiment to breed them in captivity for release in the wild got a filip on Tuesday.

Under the programme started last year, eight captive- bred pygmy hogs were released in Manas Park on Tuesday. Four more are slated to be introduced on June 25 under the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP), said foresters.

At one time common in Nepal, sub-Himalayan India and Bhutan, they now number just around 250 and the programme in association with United Kingdom's Durrell Wildlife Conservation hopes to bring new life to the threatened species whose piglets can fit into a trouser pocket.

The first batch of 14 of this rare species were successfully released last year, PHCP Project Director Dr Parag Jyoti Deka said on Wednesday.

The PHCP was initiated in 1995 and since then the pygmy hog has been ''brought back from extinction by this partnership effort and now we are moving towards the establishment of a population across the entire range'', Deka said.

Manas has one of the largest remaining grassland habitats in the sub-Himalayan grassland ecosystem and the pygmy hogs, standing about 25 cm or 10 inch from the ground and weighing six to nine kg, are found only in these tall dense alluvial grasslands.

The pygmy hogs (Porcula salvania) are incredibly shy and are almost never seen With this release in the Bhuyanpara range of the Park, the total number of pygmy hogs reintroduced into the wild by the PHCP has reached 142, including 67 males and 75 females, which is more than their current global wild population, he said.

''The release is a landmark achievement and is the key step on the road to the establishment of a new sub-population of pygmy hogs in Manas National Park and this batch of 12 hogs include five male and seven females with eight released on Tuesday'', he said.

By 2025, the PHCP plans to release 60 more pygmy hogs in Manas and with this ''the iconic species returns to their home where their last original population still survives'', he said.

In 1996, six hogs, two males and four females were captured from the Bansbari range of Manas National Park to start the highly successful breeding programme and later, a young male rescued in 2001, and another male and two females captured in 2013 from the same range, joined the captive breeding stock.

Reintroduction of captive hogs in the wild began in 2008, initially in three Protected Areas.

Over the next decade, 35 hogs (18 males and 17 females) were released in Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary, 59 hogs, (26 males and 33 females) in Orang National Park, and 22 , i(1 males and 11 females) in Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary.

The reintroductions in Orang have been particularly successful as they have multiplied almost two and a half times in number, and have spread to areas far from release locations, he said.

As part of its rewilding strategy, the PHCP will continue to maintain about 70 captive hogs at its two centres in Assam and breed more hogs for release.

The Park's Field Director Amal Chandra Sarma said that in recent years, Manas is really doing well in conservation and with the release of these hogs in Bhuyanpara range, the hog population will increase which will attract more visitors. PTI DG JRC JRC

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