BARNADI (UDALGURI), Dec 26 – Has the elusive pigmy hog that catapulted Barnadi wildlife sanctuary into global prominence following the rediscovery of the pigmy hog and hispid hare in 1971 (after both were thought to be extinct) done the disappearing act again?
Conservationists and foresters alike are groping in the dark to find an answer, with no sighting of the highly-endangered animal at Barnadi for over two decades. As things continue to worsen at Barnadi, conservationists are highly skeptical about the presence of the world’s smallest suid in what used to be its last refuge.
“None has seen a pigmy hog here in the last two decades or so. Even signs indicating its presence such as nests, too, have not been noticed over a long period,” Bankim Sarma, DFO, Dhansiri Division, says.
Barnadi presents a picture of utter neglect and apathy – so much so that the sanctuary authorities have not been able to conduct a census of the pigmy hog for want of fund and logistics.
“A census of the pigmy hog has been long overdue, given that no sighting has been made for over two decades. It is a must to determine the animal's status at Barnadi,” Satyaram Bodo, ranger in-charge, Barnadi, says.
Shrinkage and degradation of grassland habitat in the sanctuary has been among the factors casting a shadow over the pigmy hog’s survival chances. While no exact estimate on the damage is available, local NGOs believe that as much as 90 per cent of the grassland habitat today stands degraded due to growth of invasive species of trees and weeds.
“Poor grassland management, invasive species, and mounting anthropogenic pressures have taken a toll on the grassland habitat. This is having ominous portents for not just the pigmy hog but other grassland dwellers as well,” Nabajit Bodo, president of Pigmy Hog Eco Tourism Society engaged in conservation and eco-tourism promotion in and around Barnadi, says.
Expanding croplands right up to the boundaries of Barnadi have eroded the sanctuary’s much-needed buffer areas. “Till ten 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,” Ananta Bagh, president of Green Valley Forest and Wildlife Protection Society, says.
The 26.21-sq km sanctuary is having 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.
Poaching, too, has been among the impediments hampering conservation efforts at Barnadi. While commercial poaching might not have yet attained serious dimensions, traditional hunting by some of the communities living near the forests was a worry. Some local inhabitants, however, differ with the department version, saying that poaching - for whatever purpose - has been common in the forest.
“While poaching of big animals occasionally attracts attention, killing or capturing of lesser animals and birds are rarely noticed and acted upon,” an inhabitant says.
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 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.