May 5, 2014 § 1 Comment
Today I woke up with my fresh cup of coffee and started to skim through the morning’s news reports on the BBC. Something I have promised myself to do less of recently, as although I feel it is important for me to keep up with current affairs and stay connected to the world, I have noticed that when I end up consuming bad news stories first thing in the morning (which often seems to be the case), my day will start off on the wrong foot. That is to say, I am simply much happier when I delay my daily disappointment (I mean appointment) with the news at least until lunchtime. Today is not one of those happy days. I open BBC news and smack – ‘John Kerry warns of South Sudan genocide’. My experience tells me I should look away and ignore yet another undoubtedly saddening and tragic report about South Sudan. I mean, nobody wants threats of genocide with their bowl of breakfast cereal right?! But of course I do read it, ever since becoming acquainted with James Ochieng, I always make a point of reading every single article that I come across on South Sudan. I feel that paying attention is the very least I should do. But really I know I could do more.
BBC report warning of genocide in South Sudan
It began with a tweet two years ago, when James Ochieng, a volunteer teacher at Kan Ajak Primary School in a remote village in South Sudan decided to contact me via Twitter. His school in the North Bahr al-Ghazal State is not far from the border that since independence in 2011, has separated Sudan from what is now recognised as the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. From this remote location, James Ochieng expressed a desire for the children at his school to become a part of my rainforest conservation project, Bloomtrigger. A project, which through the use of modern day technology, connects primary school children around the world with Amazon forest communities. The Bloomtrigger project is a free online platform providing schools with interactive environmental workshops that teach the importance of tackling global deforestation and climate change, empowering the children to help protect their own part of the rainforest in a meaningful and creative way.
The first step of the project requires a little bit of artistic expression, which any child is more than qualified to do. The children simply have to draw a self portrait, which is then uploaded to Bloomtrigger’s website. This, however, is when we identified our first major challenge! Apparently the internet has not yet reached Kan Ajak Primary School, neither have computers, nor electricity for that matter. If this does not surprise you, then perhaps like me, your impression of South Sudan is of a country ravaged by decades of civil war and crippled by severe poverty. Where the children wear tattered clothes and are lucky if they have shoes, let alone computers and broadband internet. Unfortunately, in the case of Kan Ajak village, we would be right. James Ochieng informed me that most of the approximate 500 children who attend the school are Returnees or former (IDP’s) internally displaced persons. They are indeed barefoot or perhaps fortunate enough to own a pair of plastic sandals. He explains “Some children stay at home, too ashamed to go to school without appropriate clothing”, though he added, “the more courageous come in whatever they have”. The lack of resources in one of the world’s poorest countries is even less surprising when you consider that more than a million people have fled their homes since the conflict ignited again last December, resulting in increasing economic hardship for the South Sudanese people.
Helping this school to become a part of the Bloomtrigger project was clearly going to be an ambitious challenge, if not slightly ridiculous considering the facts. Bloomtrigger is still a relatively small startup organisation by most standards, but proud to have united a diverse network of schools, individuals and businesses to help pioneer our model of environmental education and conservation. The project has reached schools across the UK as well as in other developed countries like Japan and (some developing nations) such as Nepal and Brazil. Now to branch out into South Sudan may seem like an unnecessary distraction from the focus of our work, but the passion and persistence of James Ochieng for progressing his school was contagious from the beginning. I carefully examined his emails and while reading in between the lines of his not quite perfect English, I could see that here I was dealing with a true gentleman. James is a man who clearly has an impressive understanding of the world and a quiet determination for where his school, community and country should be heading. As months passed he continued to send me the occasional updates from the village via a mobile modem attached to his laptop. This poor connection often proved too unreliable, even to send a simple email, and I would often be left waiting months for a response, until James could make one of his long and difficult journeys by road to Nairobi in Kenya, where he is able to find a decent enough internet connection to send images and video updates from the school. I asked him how the conflict is affecting the children at his school and fortunately, the fighting is not happening in their State this time. However, he informs me that “the army is currently the biggest employer in South Sudan and that there are men and women with the duty of defending the nation and some of these men and women from the region have lost their lives. When the fighting broke out most of the roads were closed and the cost of living was, and still is, unbearable for many. Despite these conditions the children keep the school a vibrant place, which is rapidly growing in numbers and becoming a centre for education amongst all the local population”.
Today I live in Brazil, São Paulo, a city which is literally surrounded by favelas (slums), yet it is still possible to ignore this extreme poverty, and like many of the middle class Brazilians in my neighbourhood, I find it easy to shut out the inequality that exists on our door step. When I think about the troubles in South Sudan, it is again all too easy to feel detached or powerless to do anything about a complex problem that is somebody else’s, the people who live in Africa perhaps or just the people in South Sudan, it is just their problem. As if we are not one and the same people. Human beings living on our one small planet, with a finite amount of resources, struggling to find a sustainable balance, a way to share our resources fairly, without great disparity between the rich and poor, without conflict and without threats of genocide.
I have just checked on the UK government travel website and the official word from the (FCO) Foreign and Common Wealth Office is “DO NOT TRAVEL TO SOUTH SUDAN” and they add, “the situation is tense”. I don’t mind admitting that I would not want to get physically too close to South Sudan right now. These reports of insecurity do not exactly help my feeling of distance and detachment from this far away place, but at the same time, reading these reports, has left me feeling deeply humbled. To think that a school with so little, which is confronted by the constant fears of war, lack of water, food, basically survival, is also concerned about teaching their children about a global perspective, such as the issue of deforestation and climate change. They are even willing to make a huge effort in order to play their role in protecting rainforests on the other side of the world in Peru! James Ochieng, puts it very simply, “these conflicts happening now will not dampen our spirits, we shall keep on working hard to ensure that children are prepared now for a future without conflict.” You cannot argue with his thinking. And as it turns out deforestation is not only a problem happening far away in the Amazon or even in the neighbouring states of the African Congo basin. It is increasingly becoming a very local problem that can have severe consequences for the children’s education. Like most schools in South Sudan, Kan Ajak Primary School is under the UN World Food Program (WFP). The children’s meals are cooked in the school and firewood is the only fuel used to cook this food. What happens is that the children are instructed to bring a piece of firewood on their way to school, at least twice a week, failure to do that will result in punishment. So you can imagine what happens on the routes to school. Children break branches along the way, resulting in the destruction of all the trees within their reach. The school has now taken steps to find a solution to this problem by introducing biofuel briquettes as an alternative fuel source, but James Ochieng believes that the children need to gain a wider understanding of this issue, as he puts it “only through having both a local and international perspective will South Sudan emerge from conflict and become a household name in the future”.
So this is how without any computers or internet the South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club was born and 52 pupils from Kan Ajak took the first steps to join the project by drawing their profile images for the website. Despite several set backs and delays along the way, such as when James’s laptop broke falling off the back of his bike with all the photographs of the children’s profile drawings stuck on the hard drive or when it became too dangerous to travel, finally a few weeks ago, he made it to Nairobi to upload the drawings to Bloomtrigger’s website.
Ultimately the goal is to bring solar power, computers and a reliable internet connection to the school, so that the children will have the opportunity to fully realise the online experience of the Bloomtrigger project, and perhaps even exchange videos with other schools and forestry communities participating around the world. More importantly, imagine how a simple internet connection could transform the lives and education of all the pupils and communities around Kan Ajak Primary School. We hope to make this happen one day in the near future, but until then we will continue to make small steps towards this goal and look for ways to bring more immediate essentials to the school, like helping to provide better access to clean drinking water, books, pencils, school uniforms. Just helping with basic things, like chairs would be a good start! And as the world continues to present us all with more difficult and complex problems; global deforestation, climate change, poverty and conflict in South Sudan to name a few, we know how easy it is to turn a blind eye to these problems, at least at the moment, but it may not always be this way. There is a chance that our finite resources will one day run out, that continued deforestation will lead to more extreme weather conditions, bringing droughts and food shortages, and impoverished people with nothing to lose will be forced to migrate on a massive scale in order to survive. I believe the risk of these scenarios happening to us are worth taking a little time to consider. Paying attention is worthwhile (though perhaps after you have had your coffee and woken up in the morning), because amid all the complexity there are incredible, inspiring people creating local solutions that can help make a better future for us all. People like James Ochieng and the children at Kan Ajak Primary School, who are drawing faces of hope that capture our attention and remind us which way we should be heading.
by James Sutton, Bloomtrigger Founder
The South Sudan Bloomtrigger Club profile drawings
*If you would like to support the children of Kan Ajak Primary School then please get in touch to find out all the possible ways you can make help make a difference: email@example.com
February 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
THE PARROT CAMPAIGN
To mark the end of 2013 we ran a fundraising campaign leading up to Christmas to plant this PARROT mosaic on the Bloomtrigger map. Our target was to raise $2500 to enable a new family to establish an agroforestry plot in the Peruvian Amazon. Unfortunately we did not manage to make this target, however we did manage to raise enough money to at least plant the PARROT on the Bloomtrigger map. Thank you to everyone who generously donated, your name has now been added to the PARROT. We will continue to fundraise until we reach the full target and then send the total to our partners (the Crees Foundation) in Peru. And of course we will keep you updated with our progress!
To watch the video about this campaign, see the actual PARROT on the map or even download your own personal copy of the PARROT follow this link!
October 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
If you have not already heard this week is ‘I Love Amazon Week’, the focus of a new campaign brought to you buy the good people at WWF and SKY Rainforest Rescue! As you can imagine this is our kind of week here at Bloomtrigger HQ. I mean we like a lot of weeks of the year, design week, chocolate week, the week before Christmas, (not so much fashion week), last week, but ‘I Love Amazon Week’ has a special place in our hearts! Why? What’s so special about this week you may ask? Well most of us know how Amazon is a great website where you can buy pretty much anything… Sorry too obvious! Well here are some things you can’t buy on Amazon (the website), but you can find in THE AMAZON (aka. the world’s largest rainforest).
Things you can find in the Amazon worth protecting!
1. Lots and lots of priceless biodiversity: 10% of the world’s known species live in the Amazon. In fact this week we have learned that at least 441 new species of animals and plants have been discovered in the last 4 years, including a flame-patterned lizard, a thumb-nail sized frog, a vegetarian piranha and a monkey that purrs like a cat.
2. Loads of trees: Did you know 1 billion trees is approximately the size of Belgium and the Amazon rainforest is 180 times the size of Belgium. If our maths is correct that’s 180 billion trees, give or take a few! Think how much carbon must be sequestered in those trees instead of being released into our atmosphere and heating up the planet! If there are any clever people out there reading this, then you are welcome to try calculating this for us?
3. Health: 70% of plants with anti-cancer properties are found only in the rainforests. Say no more!
4. Ancient knowledge and culture too: The Amazon is home to approximately 1 million indigenous people, many of whom possess ancient knowledge and wisdom about plants and animals that has accumulated over thousands of years and has been passed down through the generations. Wisdom that may be helpful to us, like which plants help treat cancer for example?!
5. Nuts: Many of the nuts that you will find in a bag of mixed nuts can be found in the Amazon, Brazil nuts, Cashew nuts, just to name a couple of the more tasty ones!
6. Rain: As the Amazon is one of the biggest ecosystems in the world it plays a vital role providing us with essential environmental services, such as regulating our climate and water cycles. In an over populated world where global agriculture is constantly having to invent new ways to meet the challenges of feeding everyone, it really is better if we don’t mess too much with the fundamentals of our planet’s life system.
7. Beauty: The Amazon is an incredibly beautiful place and like all natural, beautiful places on our planet where nature enriches our being, it is something sacred and worth protecting!
OK, so that is seven things and it would be fun to go on writing this list all day, but the point is that you can find lots of amazing, valuable, important, clever, pretty things in the Amazon and this is why we LOVE it and why all of us should do whatever we can to help protect it.
So what can you do to be a part of ‘I Love Amazon Week’?
1. You can take the pledge to be forest friendly and share it through social media. Just go to Sky Rainforest Rescue!
2. Use the Hashtag #lovetheamazon whenever, wherever!
3. Learn more about the Amazon and this campaign.
4. Take an image of you making the heart sign with your hands and upload it to your Facebook profile. See image of Dave below as an example. Dave went along to represent Bloomtrigger at the launch event for ‘I Love Amazon Week” and they snapped him declaring his love for the rainforest.
5. Donate! Donating some money to this campaign or to Bloomtrigger is going to support the sustainable development of forestry communities to help them protect their forests.
AND if you’re still not sure about getting involved, then let Bloomtrigger’s very own Dave convince you why in the video below!
More about ‘I Love Amazon Week’!
I Love Amazon Week is a celebration of the world’s largest rainforest and a call to action to the UK public to pledge to be forest-friendly. Through Sky Rainforest Rescue over 5,000 people in Acre, Brazil have committed not to slash and burn their land, helping to save one billion trees from deforestation. For I Love Amazon Week, Sky and WWF are asking 5,000 people in the UK to match that commitment by pledging to be forest-friendly and making everyday changes that can make a real difference. They’ll be taking this to the Acre Government to show that together we can make a difference for the Amazon.
May 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
Some could say that when it comes to forest conservation, Miranda Gibson has had her head in the clouds – literally. The qualified high school teacher spent a record-breaking 15 months living on a platform built into a tree 60 metres above the ground in the forests of southern Tasmania.
Hailed as a “hero of the forests” by former Greens leader Bob Brown, Miranda staged the tree sit-in to protest the logging of Tasmanian forests. Although a nearby bush fire forced Miranda to leave the tree (which she named the Observer Tree) on March 7 2013, her determination to continue campaigning for the forests is far from gone.
By Lydia Hales.
Q. Your blog piece on what it was like for you to come down from the Observer Tree after such a long time was quite emotional. How are you adjusting to life back on the ground?
A. It’s been a lot to adjust to, getting used to life on the ground again. The hardest thing has been the separation from the tree and the forest, which I miss every day. But there has also been great things about being on the ground, being able to regroup with other conservationists and plan ways forward together. Now that we have the Tasmanian Forest Agreement in place, which effectively locks in ongoing native forest destruction, it’s more important than ever to keep up the fight for the forests. It is hard knowing that I had to get out of the tree before I was ready to, but I also know that there is so much I can do on the ground to keep the momentum of the campaign going.
Q. Do you know at this stage if any plans to return to the tree will go ahead?
A. At this stage, I don’t plan to go back up the tree. The area where the tree is has been nominated for World Heritage and I hope that next month, in June, when the committee meet, it will be officially included in Tasmania’s World Heritage Area. Of course, there are a lot of areas of high conservation value that will not be included and so I will continue the campaign for those forests across the state that remain under threat.
Q. A couple of articles mentioned your “isolation and solitude” as being the hardest things about your record-breaking time in the tree. Do you feel that during this time you learnt a lot about yourself, and how we as humans can connect with nature?
A. The time in the tree was undoubtedly challenging due to the isolation, but on the flip-side to that, the solitude was a remarkable experience and I feel that I learnt a lot about myself and about the forest. I developed a really close connection to that area of forest and to my tree in particular. It taught me that humans can definitely connect with the natural world in profound ways. I guess the tree became like a best friend to me and it will always have a special place in my heart.
Q. Whenever you were struggling, what did you think of to keep your spirits up and keep you motivated?
A. I was always uplifted by the forest. Whenever I started to find it challenging, I would just have to look out across the forest that I was there to defend, and I would find the strength to keep going. There were constantly special moments, such as amazing and beautiful birds and owls coming to visit me, which would lift my spirits. I also found a lot of strength from the solidarity that came from people all around the world. My inbox was filled daily with support and encouragement from people from all walks of life, and that played a major part in what kept me motivated. I guess I could also see how effective my action was, the impact it had internationally in spreading the word about these forests.
Q. What do you think has been the best thing to come from your campaign?
A. One major success of the campaign has been the growing awareness around the world about Tasmania’s forest. This has had an impact in several ways. It added to the pressure on the Australian Government, to ensure that the forests were nominated for World Heritage, which happened on February 1st this year. It has also had a direct impact on companies like Ta Ann, who are selling wood from Tasmania’s high conservation value forests and labeling it as “eco-ply.” It is through exposing the truth to customers around the world that pressure was brought to bear on the company for these practices. Ta Ann are still continuing to sell this timber, as well as timber sourced from environmental destruction and human rights violations in Sarawak, however with the campaign against them continuing to gain international momentum, I believe we can bring an end to the destructive practices of this company.
Q. Were there any things that have come from this which you didn’t expect?
A. The personal experience was something that I had not really thought about or expected. When I went up the tree, I was thinking about it as a tool to expose the truth about the forest destruction. I didn’t really stop to think about the impact it would have on me personally, to stay in the tree tops for such a long period of time. But it was really an amazing and unique experience, I learnt so much about the patterns of the forests day to day, and so much about myself.
Q. You’re not originally from Tasmania, yet have done so much in terms of campaigning for Tasmanian forests…what first drew you to this cause?
A. I first came to Tasmania almost 10 years ago. And one of the first things I did was go out to the forests. I remember how awe-struck I was at seeing the giant trees towering above, the lush green rainforest under-storey – it was like nothing I had ever seen before. And then seeing a clear fell for the first time, realizing the absolute devastation that occurs to these forests. This is when I knew I wanted to do something to ensure that these forests survived for future generations,.
Q. Can you share your favorite memory from your time spent in the tree?
A. I have so many memories of my time in the tree that will stay with me forever. One thing that was really amazing for me was the first snowfall up there. I remember how excited I was to be in the snow, 60 meters above the ground, watching the forest turn slowly from green to white. There were many more snowfalls to come, of course, and I was amazed by the beauty of the forest in snow every time.
Another special memory is when a goshawk came into my tree, flew right towards me so that it was only a meter or two from my face, and then flew away. They are spectacular birds and it was a really unique experience to be face to face with one, in the upper canopy.
You can read more of Miranda’s story and keep updated with her work through her Observer Tree blog.
April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
At Bloomtrigger we are excited to announce our latest partnership with a company that is very much aligned with our core values. Sumak Sustainable Travel are a London based travel company who offer adventure and community-based eco-trips to Latin America for the independent and discerning travellers looking to really connect with the local life and culture of the places they visit. Sumak has a network of communities all over Latin America, who are protecting their cultures, land and ecosystems through tourism. These communities are adopting a sensitive model of tourism that avoids the traditional bad practices of mass tourism and as a result, they are providing more authentic and rewarding experiences for the discerning travellers. Examples include star-gazing in the Atacama Desert (Chile) with the Linkan Antay people, ceramic craftsmanship with rural communities in Salta (Argentina) and jungle walks into the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Colombia.
At a local level, the net economic and environmental impact of community-based ecotourism is hugely positive. However, tourists are increasingly concerned about the impact of flying to Latin America, in particular with regards to CO2 emissions and their effect on global warming. However the good people at Sumak Sustainable Travel don’t think that the best way to reduce CO2 emissions is to make people feel guilty about it and encourage them to “offset their emissions”. Instead, they searched around for an innovative non-market-based solution that will contribute to preserving the Amazon rainforest and increasing the sequestration of CO2* from the atmosphere, which is how they discovered The Bloomtrigger project.
The Bloomtrigger project brings together individuals, businesses and primary school children enabling them to support local forestry communities on the ground by promoting sustainable development and environmental awareness. Bloomtrigger, a UK-based Community Interest Company (CIC), sells a virtual currency called blooms, where 1 bloom costs 50p and will help to protect 50m2 of rainforest. The money is then invested into a conservation project that helps develop sustainable livelihoods for the forestry community on the ground.
For each traveller who books an eco-trip with Sumak Sustainable Travel, a percentage of their booking is donated to the Bloomtrigger project. The average donation is £30, which will purchase 60 blooms and help to protect 3,000m2 of Amazon rainforest. Travellers have the option to plant the blooms on the virtual map of the forest themselves or donate them to a school. This money is then invested responsibly into a community agroforestry project in the Peruvian Amazon, in collaboration with the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) of Oxford University and the Crees Foundation.
Bloomtrigger’s main approach is to pioneer creative tools based on an online model of environmental education to help tackle the problem of global deforestation and the ‘disconnection’ between urban children and their relationship with the environment. Bloomtrigger wants to offer the next generation of young people a simple solution that enables them to take action against climate change through protecting forests, whether they live in an inner suburb of London or a remote village in Africa, anyone with internet access can become a part of the project.
Sumak have already invested blooms into Townfield Primary School in the UK, so that the pupils can earn these blooms as rewards for good behaviour or marks at school. Travellers can also decide to give their blooms to friends and family, to encourage more people to protect the rainforest with them. “Sumak Sustainable Travel is now on the map!” It’s official people and here is the image below to prove it. Writing this message on the Bloomtrigger map involved Sumak planting 55 blooms (each character or image uses one bloom to plant). At a cost of £27.50 it is a simple way to help protect 2,750m2 of Amazon rainforest, which will help to keep approximately 82 tonnes of CO2 sequested in the ground and not adding to global warming in our atmosphere!
The Bloomtrigger project is already happening in primary schools in England, Japan, Nepal and even in a remote village in the South of Sudan. Now we are now preparing to launch the project in Latin America, starting in Brazilian schools with the aim of supporting indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon. One such community is the Gavião, located on the indigenous lands of Igarapé Lourdes (185,000 Ha), in the state of Rondônia. Our objectives are to reduce deforestation, restore degraded areas, combat fires and illegal logging and to promote environmental education amongst the indigenous communities to preserve their unique culture and biodiversity.
All trips by Sumak Sustainable Travel already include guided visits to innovative, community-led social and environmental projects. In time, they will also start to include the forestry communities supported by the Bloomtrigger project in the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon rainforest.
At Bloomtrigger we believe our project is a simple and creative way to help protect Amazon forests, which can be integrated into many different types of businesses models to bring more value to resposible consumers. Increasingly people are looking to make sure that they are making significant and long-term impact when they buy a holiday or car or perhaps even a chocolate bar. We hope our new partnership with Sumak Sustainable Travel will prove a positive example for many others to follow.
*It is estimated that 1,000 m2 of Amazon rainforest can sequestrate approximately 30 tons of CO2.
How does protecting rainforest ‘save carbon’?
1 hectare of rainforest = 300 Tonnes of CO2
When calculating the carbon saving of helping to protect 1 hectare of rainforest from being destroyed, we are referring to the total amount of carbon locked up in all the trees and vegetation within that hectare, this is called the ‘carbon stock’. This is the amount of carbon that would be released into the atmosphere if that hectare of rainforest is allowed to be deforested.
Typically a hectare of rainforest contains between 300-500 tonnes of CO2. This amount varies due to factors such as vegetation type, climate and altitude. Therefore we are taking a conservative estimate of 300 tonnes per hectare.
March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
Annual Report 2012 – Peru Project
Here is a look at the impact the Bloomtrigger project has been having so far in the Peruvian Amazon through supporting the work of the Crees Foundation! Click the link to download Bloomtrigger’s 2012 annual report by the Crees Foundation about the community agroforesty project in Peru.
Crees – heroes : Reynaldo (In spanish with english subtitles)
If you don’t like reading reports but would prefer to watch a short video instead, then please take a view minutes to meet Reynald a Crees hero. Reynaldo is the project manager for Crees in the Peruvian Amazon and has a serious and inspiring story to share.
Crees – Sustainable Community Initiative (In english)
Watch this short animation film by Crees explaining their story and how their initiative is protecting the Amazon rainforest in Peru.
January 7, 2013 § 2 Comments
Taz the Tasmanian Devil, mostly seen as a brown whirl-wind of teeth and fur growling his way through a Looney Tunes cartoon, is always getting into trouble. Most of his problems are caused by his raging appetite, quick temper and tendency to try and bite his way through any obstacle. And while the real Tassie Devil may share some of these qualities, the trouble this marsupial is in is far from funny.
The Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, is the world’s largest surviving marsupial – large males can weigh in at up to 12kg and their bite is thought to be equal to that of a dog four times their size. Unlike cartoon Taz, real Devils are black with white markings, move around on all fours and have squat, powerful bodies. Their famous growls, high-pitched screeching and snarls, along with their impressive “yawn” may come across as ferocious (and did lead to the early European settlers naming it “the Devil”) but are mostly used for show and to avoid harmful fighting occurring over shares of food.
With fossils showing the Devil once lived on mainland Australia (before European settlement), they are now only found in the southern island state of Tasmania. Although they are capable of defending themselves if threatened, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program describes Devils as shy animals, which find shelter during the day and move about to hunt during the night.
In the 1930s a bounty was offered for Devils due to their attacks on poultry and lambs, and the population plummeted. It was not until 1941 that they were protected by law. Despite this, habitat loss, competition and strikes by motor vehicles were among the major factors leading to the Devil being listed as Endangered in 2008 under Tasmania’s Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.
But the Devil is now facing its most serious fight yet: Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), threatening the Devil with extinction. The cancer was first reported in north-eastern Tasmania in 1996, and since its discovery has resulted in an overall population decline of over 60% (over 90% in the region where it was first found). As aggressive as the image of the Devil themselves, the cancer is one of only three known cancers which spreads like a contagious disease: live cells are transmitted to other Devils through biting when feeding and mating. Death usually results within months. The disease has spread across Tasmania, the battle intensifying as the cancer formed several different strains.
Urgent research has been undertaken by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program (the first of several projects), which recruited experts from various fields to focus on four main goals: (i) creating a captive ”insurance” population; (ii) suppressing the disease by culling infected animals; (iii) identifying and translocating the resistant genotypes; and (iv) developing a vaccine.
A major milestone of the project was achieved on November 14th this year when 15 healthy Devils were released into the Maria Island National Park (Maria Island is a smaller island off the east coast of Tasmania, made up entirely of National Park). The release into a new, disease-free area is the result of three years of careful planning and preparation. This new population will be monitored and provide important information for future releases.
Despite various other successes with the program, the disease remains incurable. This cancer does not rest, and neither must we if we hope to save this iconic (and keystone) species from extinction. To donate or find out more ways you can help, visit: www.tassiedevil.com.au
By Lydia Hales.
Save the Tasmanian Devil Program 2011/2012 Annual Program Report (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment)
Save the Tasmanian Devil Program Appeal Media Release, July 4th 2011.
(McCallum, H et al. 2009). Transmission dynamics of Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease may
lead to disease-induced extinction. Ecology, 90(12).