World's Tiniest Wild Pig Subject of Big Rescue Effort

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The PHCP captive breeding program may be the only thing standing between the pygmy hog and extinction, according to Narayan.

Beginning with six animals captured in the wild in 1996, the captive breeding program is now home to more than 75 pygmy hogs.

The program has proven so successful that pairing and mating are now being controlled at the breeding center to avoid overcrowding. DNA studies by the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India, are being conducted to avoid loss of genetic diversity.

"It is a good program, but its future will depend on successful release of captive-bred animals into the wild," said P. C. Bhattacharjee, head of animal ecology and wildlife biology at Guwahati University in Assam, India.

"There is an urgent need to develop an alternative research and breeding site," he said. "Putting all eggs in one basket is not such a good idea."

Reintroduction to the Wild

The population surveys conducted early on during the study are also being used to help researchers identify potential sites for reintroduction.

"The release into the wild is the real challenge now," said Bhattacharjee. "How safe is Manas as a reintroduction site? Not just in terms of the human factor, there is also the factor of other larger animals."

Bhattacharjee believes that an initial release into a small, restricted area to see how the animals acclimate before they're released fully into the wild is the best approach.

"This is very important, otherwise all the time and effort spent on the PHCP over the years will go to waste, if release into the wild is not successful," he said.

Other conservation measures recommended in the PHCP report include restoring grasslands and developing stronger management plans for the ecosystems.

A "coordinated and sustained effort by the authorities in collaboration with local conservation groups" is necessary to save the world's tiniest pig, said Narayan.

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