By Hannah Stevens @hannahshewans
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The pygmy hog population - both the rarest and the smallest pig in the world - has been on the decline for decades due to uncontrolled agricultural expansion, climate change, fires and flooding.
The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme have recently released the one hundredth captive-born pygmy hog back into the wild.
With the population of mature adult pygmy hogs in Manas National Park thought to be less than 250, the release is a huge step forward in building a viable population in the wild.
Wildlife photographer, Craig Jones, ventured to the conservation to capture the momentous event.
He said: “They’re really cute and they’re really dependent on each other. They make odd little noises and they’re immensely shy of humans. They can literally move like a bullet out of a gun.”
Project Director, Dr Goutam Narayan, and Project Manager, Parag Jyoti Deka, spent 12 months planning the release of six hogs into Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, India.
The hogs were kept in a separate enclosure, away from human contact, for six months prior to their release.
Before being released into the grasslands at the base of the Himalayas, the captive-born hogs were rounded up, tagged and settled in a holding pen for three days.
Staffordshire-based Craig Jones said: “I’d describe them as having great legs, tiny feet and top heavy. You wonder: how does that little body sit on those legs?
“And their little legs are really shapely and they have these really tiny, manicured little hooves.”
Overshadowed by pleas to care for rhinos and tigers in the area, pygmy hogs have struggled to repopulate.
In partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme hopes to change this.
As an advocate for ethical conservation, wildlife photographer Craig Jones believes it is the only way to safeguard the future of animals.
He said: “I don’t really like zoos and the containment of animals. And we all wonder what we can do to help and the work that the PHCP and DWCT do is the framework for saving endangered animals.
“This conservation effort really is the future of saving the animals that are left. Putting animals on display just isn’t cutting it anymore.”
The success of the programme is unparalleled, but the animals remain classified as critically endangered and the grasslands are not faring much better.
He continued: “These guys in Assam are trying to save the pygmy hog, and if you save the pygmy hog then you save the grasslands.
“And if you save the grasslands you save the tigers and the elephants and the rhinos. It’s a whole eco system and the grasslands are disappearing.”