World's Tiniest Pig, Thought Extinct, Returns to the Wild

The shy, 10-inch-tall pygmy hog, 'rediscovered' in 1971, is steadily increasing in number due to captive breeding in its native India.

First described by western science in 1847, the pygmy hog was rarely seen over the ensuing century, due to its size and skittishness, reports National Geographic. In his 1964 book The Wild Life of India, naturalist Edward Pritchard Gee wrote he was “trying hard to find out if [the pygmy hog] still exists.”

In 1971, long after its last-known sighting, a tea garden laborer caught a group of pygmy hogs fleeing a fire in Assam. Word reached naturalist Gerald Durrell, founder of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, about the find. Trust scientists came to Assam to research the hogs, but it took another two decades to launch the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme, which began capturing wild hogs to breed in 1996.

Twenty-five years later, the conservation efforts are paying off. Today, between 300 and 400 animals exist in the wild, and 76 in captivity, and the species appears to be thriving. The success of the initial programme 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.

Breeding pigs is only part of the solution: They also need healthy grasslands . When assessing potential release sites, the team looks for alluvial soil (earth full of mineral deposits brought by rivers), certain species of native grass and plants, and up to about two square miles of habitat. That's proving difficult, so the next goal is to restore at least 11 square miles of grasslands in Manas National Park by 2025. This will further enable the pigs to repopulate the land and thrive,

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. So, it's great news that the conservation efforts are paying off.