Weekly round-up: May 30

Tasmanian devils have been extinct on mainland Australia for more than 3,000 years (Aussie Ark)

Seven Tasmanian devil joeys have been born on mainland Australia, the first such birth in more than 3,000 years.

The newborns are part of a project between Re:Wild (formerly Global Wildlife Conservation) and Aussie Ark to re-establish the animals, starting with the introduction of 26 adults into a 400-hectare wild sanctuary last year.

“We have been working tirelessly for the better part of ten years to return devils to the wild of mainland Australia with the hope that they would establish a sustainable population,” said Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark. “Once they were back in the wild, it was up to them, which was nerve wracking. We had been watching them from afar until it was time to step in and confirm the birth of our first wild joeys. And what a moment it was!”

The team estimates 20 joeys will be born this year. Initial pouch checks on the first arrivals show all are in good health and developing normally.

Tasmanian devil joeys in the pouch (Aussie Ark)

Tasmanian devils were common on the mainland until being outcompeted by dingoes. Although surviving on the island of Tasmania off the south coast, the population suffered losses of up to 90 per cent due to devil facial tumour disease – the only known contagious cancer – leaving just 25,000 individuals in the wild. Aussie Ark has been building an “insurance” population for a decade, with the ultimate aim of releasing individuals and boosting healthy population numbers.

“The fact that the adults have adapted so quickly is remarkable and the joeys are one of the most tangible signs that the reintroduction of Tasmanian devils is working,” said Don Church, president of Re:wild. 

“This doesn’t just bode well for this endangered species, but also for the many other endangered species that can be saved if we rewild Australia, the country with the world’s worst extinction rate. Tasmanian devils are ecosystem engineers that can restore and rebalance the wild to the benefit of other native wildlife, to the climate, and to people.”

Fernanda the Ferndandina giant tortoise (©Lucas Bustamante (@luksth))

Re:wild also announced the rediscovery of the Fernandina giant tortoise this week following an expedition to the Galápagos islands in 2019. One individual, named Fernanda, was found tucked on the edge of a volcano and has been confirmed as a genetic match for the only other example collected. 

“Giant tortoises have always been a source of wonder and awe and now, through Fernanda, they are again taking up their mantle as a symbol of hope for our planet’s lost and endangered species and the protection and restoration of biodiversity,” said Church. 

“We cannot rewild the Galápagos without its giant tortoises and are looking forward to supporting the Galápagos National Park Directorate and Galapagos Conservancy on upcoming expeditions this year to find other Fernandina giant tortoises for a conservation breeding program. If successful, we hope to someday see Fernanda’s offspring thriving on Fernandina.”
Source Re:Wild

The giant river otter seen in Agentina’s Bermejo River (Rewilding Argentina)

In another boon for missing species, a giant river otter thought to be locally extinct has been spotted in Argentina’s Impenetrable National Park.

Not seen in the region in four decades, the individual was spotted by Rewilding Argentina director Sebastian di Martino while out kayaking on the Bermejo River.

“I was surprised and excited,” said Di Martino, speaking to Mongabay. “At the beginning, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

It is not clear whether the individual has travelled here from another group or if otters have remained in the area undetected, although the nearest populations are thousands of miles away. Rewilding Argentina has plans to boost giant river otter numbers through a captive breeding programme, and a few days before the sighting celebrated the birth of three healthy pups.

Di Martino added: “As top predators, the giant river otter exerts a regulatory influence on plants and other animals which contributes to the health of aquatic ecosystems.”
Source Mongabay

Life-sized decoy birds and bird call recordings are being used to help repopulate Mauritian islands with species that have largely disappeared due to construction, poaching, pollution and climate change.

Conservationists hope that seeing and hearing the decoys while flying overhead will encourage birds to land, settle and mate on the islands — many of which are named after species that once lived on them.

“Seabirds help fertilise the land by bringing important marine nutrients. Their presence helps plants and insect populations to grow, helping the whole food chain,” said Vikash Tatayah of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. “A high density of seabirds on islands are also important to coral reefs, which they fertilise, and they contribute to the health of fisheries. Birds are also a major tourist attraction.”
Source The Independent

In Washington DC, the Animal Welfare League of Arlington is reporting numerous cases of an as yet unidentified disorder causing blindness in birds.

First seen in juvenile grackles and blue jays, more species have now been affected, with otherwise healthy-looking birds forced to land and remain on the ground due to vision loss. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is carrying out tests on a sample of the birds. Residents who find injured or dead birds are encouraged to report them to Arlington Animal Control.
Source Animal Welfare League of Arlington

Cheetahs from South Africa will be relocated to India

Almost 70 years after they were declared extinct, cheetahs are to be reintroduced to India.

Ten individuals, five females and five males, will be transferred from South Africa to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The park covers 750sq km in the north of the country, and includes significant populations of prey including antelopes, wild boar and spotted deer.

The cheetahs will be released in October and November this year.
Source India Today

Plastic pollution has been recorded in all marine habitats on the island of San Cristobal, the site of Charles Darwin’s first landing on the Galápagos islands, with particles found in seawater, beaches and inside marine animals throughout the archipelago.

A study by Exeter University, the Galápagos Conservation Trust and Galápagos Science Center also identified pollution hotspots, with more than 400 plastic particles per square metre of beach — one of which is home to the rare Godzilla marine iguana.

More than half of the marine invertebrates studied contained plastic particles, while marine vertebrates surrounding the islands are also at risk of swallowing plastic or entanglement.

“The pristine image of Galápagos might give the impression that the islands are somehow protected from plastic pollution, but our study clearly shows that’s not the case,” said Dr Ceri Lewis, from Exeter’s Global Systems Institute. 

“The highest levels of plastic we found were on east-facing beaches, which are exposed to pollution carried across the eastern Pacific on the Humboldt Current. These east-facing beaches include Punta Pitt, a highly polluted site that is home to Godzilla marine iguanas which – like so much Galápagos wildlife – are found nowhere else in the world. There are fewer than 500 Godzilla marine iguanas in existence, and it’s concerning that they are living alongside this high level of plastic pollution.”
Publication Science of the Total Environment

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The weekly round-up will return on Sunday, June 13

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