Twelve pygmy hogs (Porcu salvania) were released back into northeast India last week as part of a conservation program made to resurrect the species from near-extinction in the 1960s. The pigs remain extremely rare in the wild, with an estimated 250 persevering out there.
The hogs are the smallest species of pig, standing at 25.4 centimetres tall as adults and weighing in around 9.1 kilograms. That makes them about the size of Scottish Terriers. They have the piggish snouts you might expect and are mottled brown in colour, making them look like a capybara with a boar’s head. The pigs are pretty open-minded omnivores, eating everything from roots and tubers to insects and small rodents.
The animals were feared extinct in the 1960s following the extensive expansion of farmland in the pig’s native grassland habitat in northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The pigs’ continued survival was confirmed in 1971, but by the 1990s, its range was relegated to a few stretches of Manas National Park in the Indian state of Assam. At an estimated 250, their population also makes them among the rarest pigs in the world.
In 1996, the Pygmy Hog Conservation Program was established to breed the pigs in captivity and release them back into the wild. “This time we are releasing 12 pygmy hogs including seven male and five female,” Dhritiman Das, the field scientist for the program, told AFP. “In [the] next four years, we target to release 60 hogs … so that they can build their own population in the wild.” Some 142 pigs have so far been reintroduced to their native habitat, more than 50% of the presumed naturally wild population total.
In the 50 years since their rediscovery, it’s fair to say the pigs’ condition has more than improved. They’re winning the numbers game outright. But reproducing piglets is just part of the issue. As National Geographic reported, the animals are still facing habitat loss; you can’t just add more hogs to a limited range, no matter how pygmy they are. African swine fever is a concern for conservationists trying to help the pigs. The disease arrived in the region last year, around the same time as covid-19.
So here’s hoping the pigs keep on plodding forward. And to the newest 12 to leave captive care: Welcome to the wild.