It was thought that the worlds smallest and rarest wild pig by the 1960’s was lost forever. But with over 30 years of dedication from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the pygmy hog now has a brighter future. They are still critically endangered and on the IUCN red list but the future looks brighter for them with the work going on to save them.
The pygmy hog comes from the foothill plains south of the Himalayas. Its population has been decimated by habitat destruction due to the expansion of human and cattle populations, uncontrolled thatch burning in the region and the development of commercial plantations.
It is the rarest, the smallest and the most critically endangered wild pig species found in the world. It is the sole surviving representative of the ‘Porcula’ genus. If we lose the pygmy hog then an entire evolutionary branch of the pig family would be lost.
Once found in the grass lands of whole southern Himalayan foot hills, Pygmy Hogs have faced the wrath of human civilization and have been wiped out from most of its habitat. Currently the species is confined to the tall grass upland of Manas National Park in Assam with an estimated population of below 250. This species is very sensitive to any change in habitat and they don’t adapt well any changes in their Eco system.
Sadly there is very little public awareness and support for the smallest pig in the world. The only conservation program for the Pygmy Hog was started in 1995. Named as the Pygmy Hog Conservation Program (PHCP), it was initiated by scientist Goutam Narayan with the help of the government, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT) and IUCN Wild Pig Specialist Group.
The PHCP started a captive breeding programme in Basistha, Guwahati, with the goal of reintroducing captive bred hogs back in the wild in 1996. The captive breeding programme has been a great successful and this month marks the 100th release of captive bred Pygmy hogs into the wild.
I am very proud to be helping the world renowned Durrell Wildlife Trust with this project in Assam. The work they do to save endangered species is amazing and the framework to how we as a race should be saving all wild animals not only those in grave danger. This month marks the 100th release of captive born Pygmy Hogs that will be released into the wild to boost the falling population. This trip has been almost 12 months in the making and its a great privilege for me to cover this release and bring it to the public’s attention.
The trust and their work have a family feel to them and the touching and moving story of how it all began is gracing our TV screens as we speak with the ITV “The Durrell’s”. I find their work, ethics and ethos very inspiring at a time when the natural world is dying; and we are losing creatures before we can even start to save them, some vanishing before they can even be discovered.
Local people are the best indicators of what’s happening, they give us an inside view in how to save their Eco systems, habitats and wildlife. The Durrell Wildlife Trust is one of very few that returns captive born and bred animals back into the wild with fully supported teams in the country of origin. That’s why Im proud to be covering the Pygmy Hog project in Assam, India
The work they have done to save this little fellow is amazing and is the blueprint in saving other crucially endangered species in my eyes. Those eyes arent expert ones though, I speak as merely someone who loves and cares for wildlife and wants to do his bit to help such creatures in danger. I do this with my camera and passion by capturing the animals beauty and cause bringing those images and plight to the public in order that help will come.
What Conservation Means To Me –
The word conservation means many things to many different people; it brings to mind all sorts of thoughts when that word is mentioned. For me it means simply to care, to love and to protect wildlife. With minimal intervention twinned with a great respect for wildlife I use my camera as an extension of myself.
More importantly giving the subject I’m photographing a voice outside of where they live. Highlighting their own unique story or plight within the natural world we share with nature today. The act of preserving, guarding, and protecting all living beings is something I’ve always done since my first encounters with nature as a child.
Putting together conservation and photography can be very powerful, combining these two elements they can have a profound impact that can move people to such a degree that change can and does happen.
Bringing together a deep empathy and love of the natural world alongside my camera skills I have been able to help many animals, helping to bring their plights to many members of the public that otherwise wouldn’t know of what I have been privileged to see good or bad.
The resulting images have the power to bring about positive change while allowing those animals a voice further afield from that place where you captured their plight and story. From very early on in my career as a wildlife photographer I learnt the power of an image, I learnt it moved me and so I was sure it would move those that viewed the images too.
Being allowed into a world we know little of is something that touches me greatly. Growing up I always helped any living creatures I could as I child I built my own bird aviary and often neighbours would bring me birds to try and help and nurse them back to health or take them to a local rescue center nearby. I helped local rangers watching and reporting on a Little Owls nest and many other projects I had throughout my early teens. This is where, without knowing my own conservation started.
Now as a wildlife photographer I try and help all animals with my images, telling the story behind the picture and more about where they live and how they live. I have learnt over the years when faced seeing animals in stress or danger that I am able to turn that passion into a positive and use my heart and camera to photograph what I see despite the shocking scenes I have witnessed in my career with the many examples of sheer and pointless cruelty the human race is capable of.
Switching from my heart to my head I’m able to capture the true essence of the things I have and do witness. This wasn’t planned, it wasn’t taught, it comes from a true and powerful love for animals I’ve had from a small child.
It embraces my own wonderful lessons about life and nature my late mother taught me. The power of caring for nature I learnt a long time ago, the power of photography I learnt in later life. I now place these two together and fight for all wildlife in the best and only way I know how and that’s through my work. Highlighting their plight, it educates people and brings a positive change to people’s thoughts and practices.
To understand something or someone you have to understand where that passion started I believe. I am very lucky that for 15 years of my life I had the best naturalist, who taught me about nature ,and how to protect this, my late mum. The rest you can see with my work now and those lessons shine through I hope.
I have seen for myself in Sumatra the work carried out to save the crucially endangered Sumatran Orangutans and the links back to Durrell, how they have helped and trained brilliant, forward thinking vets on the frontline making life or death decisions in seconds.
Empowering local people to care for and in turn save what they have is the way forward. I’m no expert but the places I’ve visited many times- India- Madagascar , Sumatra show us what needs to be done and what can be done when everyone sings from the same song-sheet and works together.
I don’t know what awaits me, but I cant wait to get out on the ground there. I’ve traveled to India for the last 6 years and know the country well and love it. I will be doing my very best to capture the Pygmy Hogs life, where they live and the amazing work to save them and their surrounding habitat. One thing is sure though Assam is the place where most of the world’s finest teas are from so I will get a decent cup of strong tea which is something I love.