Who would imagine that in the habitat of elephants, tigers and rhinos, the world’s smallest wild pig is the animal that is determining where the conservation dollars go?
Like the cornerstone of an arch that holds everyone else in place, the endangered pygmy pig of northern India is the keystone species of the Terai grasslands, and while those other large mammals may live elsewhere , the pig cannot. So you have a situation where protecting a 10-inch tall pig has the added benefit of protecting 300-pound tigers and 8-ton elephants.
Supposedly extinct until it was discovered in 1971 in the Indian state of Assam by a tea plantation worker, it wasn’t until the 1990s that conservationists began raising pygmy pigs in captivity.
Fortunately the pigs, which represent the last living species of the genus little pig, They breed like, well, pigs, and now between 300 and 400 are roaming the Terai grasslands again, while another 74 remain in captivity waiting to be reintroduced.
Between 2008-2020, National Geographic reports, PHCP released 130 wild pigs in two national parks, Manas and Orang, as well as two wildlife sanctuaries, Barnadi and Sonai Rupai. All four are in the state of Assam, as that is where the special grassland habitat required by pygmy pigs can be found.
Grassland ecosystems often contain one or more species that act as regulators or engineers that keep the system healthy. Lemmings or other rodents constantly aerate the soil through the excavation, while herbivores such as bison or wildebeest constantly trim tall grass species, allowing light to reach the smaller leaves.
Pygmy pigs play a role like this in the Terai grasslands. They tear up the grass to make small thatched nests above the depressions in the ground, and the paths and walkways they make between the stems of the grass help create space for light and for other plant species to grow, not to mention the useful roads prepared for other animals. .
If the Terai grasslands can be protected from grazing animals and fires, there is no doubt that the pig will once again be a common sight.
(LOOK the Smithsonian video on pygmy pigs below).
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