Conservation efforts are progressively paying off for the revival and return of the world’s smallest pig species that was once thought extinct.
According to a report by National Geographic, the 10-inch-tall pygmy hog, “rediscovered” in 1971, is steadily increasing in number due to captive breeding in its native India.
Standing about 10 inches tall, the shy animal once roamed the border regions of India, Nepal, and Bhutan, snuffling about for insects and tubers.
The endangered pygmy pig is a species so small its piglets can fit in your pocket.
But a century of habitat degradation and destruction—especially conversion of grasslands for agriculture use—devastated the pygmy hog, and until its “rediscovery” in 1971, many people thought the animal was likely extinct.
In the mid-1990s, conservationists captured some wild pigs and began breeding them in captivity, releasing them back into Assam, a state in northeastern India where a tiny wild population had survived.
Twenty-five years later, these conservation efforts are paying off, experts say: Altogether, between 300 and 400 animals remain in the wild, and 76 in captivity, and the species appears to be thriving.
The success of the initial program has led to subsequent efforts. Between 2008 and 2020, scientists released 130 pygmy hogs into two national parks, Manas and Orang, and two wildlife sanctuaries, Barnadi and Sonai Rupai—all in Assam.
Seventeen species of wild pig live around the world, and almost all of them are endangered. But what makes the pygmy hog so special (other than its diminutive size) is its evolutionary uniqueness: It’s the only species from the genus Porcula, says Matthew Linkie, Asia coordinator for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Wild Pig Specialist Group.
“If we were to lose this species,” he says, “then we’d lose an entire genus and millions of years of its evolution in an instant.”
The pygmy hog conservationists implemented strict biosecurity measures for the staff, vehicles, and equipment entering the breeding area, he says.
“While the [African swine fever] virus has a high economic impact on the domestic swine industry, for pygmy hogs and other threatened species, it can mean the tip towards extinction,” says Johanna Rode-Margono, chair of the IUCN Wild Pig Specialist Group.