Animal activist news – Late 2020 edition


Over the last two decades, devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) has wreaked havoc on the Tasmanian devil population, putting them on the edge of extinction.

Why Tazmanian devils are in danger

The endangered animal belongs to the class carnivorous marsupial, which are predators having strong jaws. Commonly referred to as Looney Tunes character Taz, a Tasmanian devil looks like a small dog and is only found in Tasmania.

For the last 20 years, Tasmanian devils have been experiencing the threat of extinction due to devil facial tumor disease. DFTD is transmissible cancer, which spreads when they snap each other over food and mates. After biting, a dense tumor grows around their neck or face, which destroys jawbones and causes death within 6 to 24 months.

The disease started in the mid -1990s and killed thousands of Tasmanian devils, erasing almost 95% population. The generic name for the cancer is DFTD, while the initial mutations created two variants: DFT1 and DFT2. Over time, the variations evolved new DFTD types, which rendered the Tasmanian devils endangered in their home island.

What the experts say

According to researchers, cancer has undergone a mutation in the past two decades. Five new forms of DFTD have been discovered by this time. Scientists found that two of these forms disappeared after some time while three continued to spread.

Biologists discovered new forms when they extracted more than 600 genomes of DFT1 from devils’ bodies who died between 2003-2018. After analyzing the samples, geneticists found that out of five DFTD forms, the last one is the most dangerous, killing 99% Tasmanian population.

A hopeful conclusion

Recently a critical breakthrough happened when scientists sequenced the genome of Tasmanian devils. Following the sequencing, researchers at the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute discovered that most Tasmanian devil’s proteins are like immune proteins.

Based on the similarity, they are trying to consider immunotherapy to treat DFTD as it has been using for treating cancers in humans. However, these techniques are still under investigation, and hopefully, they help prevent these endangered animals from extinction.

Gharials Return In Indian Rivers-A Hope Of Their Revival

A crocodile-like reptile, Gharial, has been spotted by a fisherman in the middle of Behar River India. This reptile has similarities with crocodile and alligators, but snout tipped, elongated jaw, and bulbous mass reflected that it is not a crocodile.

What are Gharials in India

Gharials, also known as the fish-eating reptiles, are the only species left of the Gavialidae family Gharials are also at the edge of critical endangerment. They were commonly found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. According to an estimate, 10000 gharials were found in these regions in 1946; unfortunately, this number reduced by 96-98% in 2006.

In the 1970s, India attempted to revive these reptiles by commencing a Crocodile Breeding and Management Project in collaboration with the UN’s Development Program and Food and Agriculture Organization. These efforts proved fruitful when 1095 gharials were released in River Chambal in 1992.

But, unfortunately, in 2007, about 100 gharials were found dead. Despite the death of many Gharials, the Chambal River is still the largest hold of Gharials containing almost 1800 gharials.

The Gharial project in India

After the Chambal project’s success, the Gandak gharial recovery project was initiated in Bihar to increase the Gharial population. The project was a collaborative initiative of the Indian Environment and Forest Department and WTI  and succeeded in releasing about 30 Gharials in the Gandak river.

One of the exciting parts of the exercise was taking around 30 juvenile and sub-adult zoo-bred and reared gharials from the Patna zoo to the Gandak River for reintroduction. Radio and satellite transmitters were fixed to a few released individuals to track their journey

Prof BC Choudhury

These Gharials were released in River to provide them optimal feeding and breeding conditions. According to WTI, since 2016, they have started a proper program to safeguard these endangered species. Under this program, WTI provided local fishers’ necessary training to locate and protect these reptiles’ nests from erosions and predators.

According to BC Choudhury,

“Gandak River in Bihar has about 7%–8% of the global adult population of gharials in the wild, and we are proud to have been instrumental in making this happen. What we visualize is that the Gandak will perhaps become the second most important wild gharial breeding location in the country, after the Chambal River.”

The appearance of two Gharials in the Bihar river in 2019 and now again in 2020 is a positive sign that Indian efforts for the revival of Gharials generate good results.