Plausible Sightings of Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Sparks Search in Queensland

Zoologists in Queensland are in a tizzy. It seems that plausible possible sightings of a Tasmanian tiger in Northern Queensland has triggered scientists to undertake a search for the species long thought to have died out more than 80 years ago.

The last Tasmanian tiger was thought to have died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. It was also widely believed to have become extinct on mainland Australia at least 2,000 years ago. As of late, sightings of some large dog-like animals that are neither dingoes nor foxes have spiked in the recent decades despite the common skepticism that surrounded the accounts.

It was the recent eyewitness accounts of potential thylacines in the far Northern Queensland that became the catalyst for scientists from James Cook University to launch a search for the animal.

It is Professor Bill Laurance said that he had spoken, at some length, with two people about the animals they had seen in Cape York peninsula that could potentially be Tasmanian tigers. The accounts of the sightings were quite plausible as the descriptions of the animals were quite detailed.

One was a long standing employee of the Queensland National Park Services and the other was a frequent camper in the north of the state. The professor said all the potential sightings to date had been at night. “In one case, four animals were observed at close rage–about 20 feet away–with a spotlight.”

The detailed descriptions of the eyes, shape, and behavior were inconsistent with the known attributes of other large species in the north Queensland. The common animals in the area are dingoes, wild dogs, or feral pigs.

The sightings occurred at two separate locations on the Cape York peninsula but the specific details of the locations are being kept confidential. “Everything is being handled with strict confidence,” says Laurance.

He mentioned people who claimed to have seen a thylacine were “quite nervous about relating their tales for fear of being branded kooks or fringe types”.

Even English ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author, Richard Dawkins has tweeted hopefully regarding news of the study. “Can it be true? Has Thylacinus been seen alive? And in mainland Australia not Tasmania? I so want it to be true.”

Sandra Abell, a researcher with James Cook University’s Center for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science who was leading the field survey has said that they had been contacted with more possible sightings since their intentions were made known to the public. She was in the process of deciding on sites for more than 50 cameras that will be set up on Cape York peninsula. Their target date shall be at the onset of the dry season in April or May.

Abell also said even if a thylacine was not detected, the survey would inform the center’s understanding of the status of rare and endangered mammal species on the peninsula. It seems that several mammals, including the northern bettong, were at risk from introduced predators.

“It is a low possibility that we’ll find thylacines, but we’ll certainly get lots of data on the predators in the area and that will help our studies in general,” she said.  It was “not impossible” there were thylacines to be found. “It is not a mythical creature. A lot of descriptions people give, it’s not a glimpse in the car headlights. People who say they’ve actually seen them can describe them in great detail–so it’s hard to say they’ve seen anything else. I’m not ruling it out at all, but to actually get them on camera will be incredibly lucky.”

We’re all hoping the rediscovery of a thriving Tasmanian tiger, aren’t you?

Some Animal Species Declared Extinct in 2016

It’s no secret that our planet has become increasingly uninhabitable over the last hundred years. There are several factors that contribute to this: industrialization, overpopulation, the inherent disassociation of people with the problems they’re causing, etc.

Not everything seemed so bleak with several communities of people gathering for the sake of protecting animals species that were nearing extinction. There have some degrees of success. The beloved Giant Panda of China is no longer considered to be endangered. Despite this, other organizations that aim to protect endangered species  seem to be fighting a losing battle. Sadly, in 2016, there were several animals that went extinct. We list them here today.

Two species of Bettongs

Bettongs are these tiny rodent-like marsupials are commonly called rat-kangaroos that are indigenous to Australia. Two species of Bettongs were officially declared extinct in 2016:

Nullabor Dwarf Bettong

The Nullabor Dwarf Bettong (Bettongia pusilla) was a species of Bettong that was endemic to the Nullabor Plain in Western Australia. It is known only from subfossil material but is considered to have been extant at European settlement.

Desert Bettong

Scientifically known as Bettongia anhydra. It was originally described as a subspecies of B. pencillata, the Desert Bettong was only recently recognized as a full species. Sadly, it was not fully known how abundant this species was before its extinction. It was thought to have been driven to extinction because of predators that were introduced to its habitat like Red Foxes and feral domestic cats.

Lesser Stick-nest Rat

The last two specimens of Lesser Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus apicalis) were collected near Mt. Crombie, Australia in July 1933. Stick-nest Rats constructed large nests of sticks and sometimes stones, depending on available construction materials. Some remaining in caves in breakaways in the Gibson Desert and near the Finke stock route in the southern Northern Territory are more than 3 m by 2 m by 1 m high.

The construction of stick-nests shows that shelter was important; the nests probably provided an ameliorated microclimate and some protection from predators. A nest may have sheltered several individuals, with records of up to ten in a nest. However, there were several records of events where the nests were burned–although the reason for this is unclear.

Ridley’s Stick Insect

The oddly named Ridley’s Stick Insect (Pseudobactricia ridleyi) was native to Singapore. With Singapore’s massive industrialization spike, most of its forest has been removed. Ridley’s Stick Insect is known from just one specimen collected in Singapore more than 100 years ago. As almost all natural forest in Singapore has since been cleared, extensive searches of the remaining forest have failed to reveal any more specimens of this species, genus or subfamily. Exhaustive surveys have also been carried out in neighboring countries which have failed to reveal any evidence of the species.

Contomastix Charrua

This is a small lizard that lived on the small island of Cabo Polonio, Paraguay. It seems to have met its extinction because of the massive increase of human settlement on the island. While there is some discussion over whether or not it may just be a color variant of the Contomastix lacertoides, there hasn’t been any new specimens found to develop conclusive findings.

What the Paris Agreement Can Do For Our Fish Stock

In recent decades, our planet’s temperature has been rising, bringing with it some pretty disastrous consequences. Sea levels rise and species of marine wildlife have been dislocated. Climate change is expected to force fish and other species to migrate toward cooler waters. The sheer number of species of fish caught in different parts of the world will impact local fishers where such species are usually found. This will make fishery management to become increasingly difficult as the temperatures continue to rise.

Thomas Frölicher, a principal investigator at the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program and senior scientist at ETH Zürich, has said that changes in ocean conditions that affect fish stocks, like temperature and oxygen concentration, are primarily related to atmospheric warming and carbon emissions. He also stated that for every metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, the maximum catch potential decreases by a significant amount.

This is a crucial point that should come up whenever the Paris Agreement is discussed. The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concerning greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting in the year 2020. If countries abide by the Paris Agreement global warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, our fish stock and fish catches could increase by six million metric tons per year.

Studies wherein the Paris Agreement 1.5C scenario was compared to the currently pledged 3.5C found the simulated changes to be quite drastic. The results showed that for every degree Celsius decrease in global warming, the potential fish catches all around the world could increase more than three metric million tons per year. Previous researches reflected that today’s global fish catch is roughly 110 million metric tons. So obviously, we can only gain by doing solid actions to insure this goal now.

Initial studies regarding the Paris Agreement suggest that the Indo-Pacific area will more than likely see a 40% increase in fishery catches at a 1.5C warming rather than at 3.5C. The Arctic region would have a greater influx of fish under the 3.5C scenario but will lose more sea ice and face pressure to expand fisheries.

The sheer number of the projected yield should ideally be more than enough incentive for countries and the private sector to substantially increase their commitments and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We all need to work on this together—if even just one country opts out of the Paris Agreement, there will be a clear reduction of the otherwise global positive effects we should all be getting.

Our population is only climbing higher and we’re running out of resources to reasonably sustain us all. Some oceans are more sensitive to changes in temperature and will have substantially larger gains from the Paris Agreement. Tropical areas are among the places where in the most yield increase will be felt. This is quite a significant point for them to consider given that tropical areas are those who are highly dependent on fisheries for food and livelihood.

If we want to continue to enjoy living on this blue globe of ours as the dominant species, we need to ensure that our descendants should have their share of continued food and fair temperature.

Evolution in Overtime: The Atlantic Killifish’s Amazing Feat

There is little doubt of the fact that environmental changes all over the world have been outpacing the rate of evolution and adaptation of many species. This has led to the extreme decline in certain numbers—something that has been the cause of alarm for most scientists throughout the years. In a more positive end to the spectrum, experts from The University of California have found that the Atlantic Killifish has undergone quite a change.

The Killifish have been known to be quite tough, even managing to survive a few weeks outside of water. A sample size from four polluted East Coast estuaries was studied and researchers found out quite the incredible feat. The Atlantic Killifish has adapted to the levels of highly toxic industrial pollutants that would have normally killed them off. They were found to be 8,000 times more resistant to the level of pollution than other fish sampled in the area.

Killifish aren’t commercially valuable but serve as an importance food source for other species in the area—the makings of a good environmental indicator of the health of the area (at least that what it was supposed to be). Researchers were surprised to find that despite the extreme toxicity levels, the Killifish were doing extremely well. A closer study of the fishes and their genetic markers yielded the data which showed that the Killifish is genetically diverse.

Their genetic diversity is actually higher than any other vertebrate species measured, which is something that can account for their speedy evolutionary capabilities. Sadly, not even Humans posses those high levels of genetic variation which is why our evolution has spanned over several millennia and is something that slowly continues to this day. Weeds and insects also share the Killifish’s high levels of genetic variation which accounts for their ability to hastily adapt and evolve their resistance to pesticides.

The researchers of the Killifish study mapped out the genomes of nearly 400 Atlantic Killifish samples from extremely polluted and non-polluted sections at several places like Newark Bay, New Jersey; New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts; Connecticut’s Bridgeport area and Virginia’s Elizabeth River. These sites have been polluted since the 50s due to the dumping of industrial pollutants which include dioxins, hydrocarbons, and several others.

These findings lay down the foundation for future research into the exploration of genes that showcase a stronger tolerance of specific chemicals. This can help further explain how certain genetic differences among humans and other species can contribute to differences in the sensitivity and reaction to environmental chemicals.

This new information taken from the Killifish study shows that while some show the genetic capability for faster evolution, this is not indicative that a majority of species can follow suit. If anything, it should serve as a warning that should the environmental makeup of our world continue on its path of rapid change, we, and several other species of plant and animal life, may not be able to keep up. It should follow that more studies of this nature should be done to fully understand which ones cannot stay alive without our intervention. This will help clarify where more studies should be done to pinpoint our efforts effectively.

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