TANGLA ,ASSAM December 7 – Rapid shrinkage and degradation of the grasslands of the Barnadi Widlife Sanctuary of Udalguri of Assam pose a serious threat to the long-term survival of the critically-endangered pygmy hog that was reintroduced to the sanctuary six months back that were
captive breeded in state capital Guwahati.
It is to be mentioned that the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust based in Jersey, Channel Island, the IUCN’s Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, the Assam Forest Department and the BTC government initiated the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) as a part six Pygmy Hogs were released in Bornadi wildlife sanctuary six months back.
At present, grassland constitutes barely ten per cent of Barnadi’s habitat, with the existing grassland under increasing attack of invasive species such as Mimosa pudica, Chromolaena and Lantana camara.
“Even though we have reintroduced six captive-bred animals, long-term survival of the species seems bleak in view of the shrinking grassland. Unless there is effective grassland management, its future is uncertain,” said a conservationist that runs the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme.
Pygmy Hog is the world’s smallest and rarest extant suid and only a handful of people can ever claim to have seen it in the wild. It is 55 to 71 cm. long, weighs around eight to 11 kg. and stands just 12 inches (20 to 30 cm.) tall.
The elusive pygmy hog that featured in the first IUCN/WWF (1984) list of the 12 most threatened animal species in the world had catapulted Barnadi into global prominence following the rediscovery of the Pygmy hog and Hispid hare in 1971 (after both were thought to be extinct). However, no Pygmy hog has been sited at Barnadi since 1994.
Despite its significance, Barnadi presents a picture of neglect and apathy – as testified to by the absence of any scientific intervention for grassland preservation and management.
“We are concerned about the threat to the grassland. We have uprooted invasive weeds in a few locations. We need more funds and logistics to intensify the process,” a forest official said.
Conservationists are worried that time is running out fast for the pygmy hog unless the interventions come immediately.
“The existing grassland habitat at Barnadi can support a pygmy hog population of around 150. But if it is not managed scientifically, things will worsen quickly as the invasive weeds are spreading rapidly,” the conservationist added.
The sanctuary’s functioning is hamstrung by manpower shortage and poor amenities. At present, it has 20 staff and seven camps. As water shortage is a major problem in the area, only a couple of camps are manned by the forest personnel.
Poor grassland management and attack of invasive species apart, mounting anthropogenic pressures have taken a toll on the sanctuary. With croplands expanding right up to the boundaries of Barnadi, the sanctuary’s much-needed buffer areas have vanished.
“Till 15 years back, there used to be a green buffer along the southern boundary but that has disappeared as the land was allotted injudiciously by the government authorities for crop cultivation,” said Jayanta Das, a conservationist.
The 26.21-sq km sanctuary has a serious problem of encroachment, with 4 sq km of its area remaining under illegal occupation. Considering the sanctuary’s small area, the encroachment extends to almost one-sixth of its habitat. “The encroached area has a human population of 2,178 in 436 houses. We are planning an eviction drive soon,” the forest official said.
Situated in Udalguri district close to the international border with Bhutan, Barnadi is among the oldest protected areas of the State. Declared a reserve forest in 1942, it was elevated to a sanctuary in 1980 to enhance long-term conservation prospects of the pigmy hog and the hispid hare.
Barnadi which forms a part of the Manas Tiger Reserve also shelters elephant, tiger, leopard, black leopard, gaur, pangolin, capped langur, slow loris, sambar, barking deer, hog deer, wild dog, porcupine, etc., and a sizeable avian population, including four species of the hornbill, and migratory birds.
The sanctuary – acclaimed for its scenic beauty – is bordered by the Barnadi river and the Nalanadi to the west and east respectively.
Photo and Report Shajid Khan,Tangla.
Shajid Khan is an independent journalist based in Assam. He can be reached at email@example.com