Are Hong Kong’s Amphibians in Peril? Tracking an Emerging Fungal Disease
among Hong Kong Newts and Other Amphibians in the Wildlife and Pet Trade
One of the major threats to global amphibian populations, particularly salamanders, are fungal diseases caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans or Bsal. In Hong Kong, the Near Threatened species of Hong Kong newt (P. hongkongensis), our only species of salamander, could be facing local extinction as a consequence of Bsal being introduced into the population. As such, a recent study led by Dr Simon Yung Wa Sin of The University of Hong Kong set out to determine whether Bsal is present in the native populations of the newt and other amphibian species in Hong Kong. The team was also keen to assess the risk of the pathogen being introduced to wild populations from captive animals by investigating the occurrence of Bsal in Hong Kong's pet trade.
A total of 442 skin swab samples of 30 amphibian species were tested, including 293 samples from the Hong Kong newt, 81 samples from 15 other local amphibian species, and 68 samples from 16 imported amphibian species. Of these, seven samples from three local species had Bsal, including the Hong Kong newt, meaning that the overall prevalence of the pathogen is extremely low – only 1.7% for Hong Kong newt and 5.8% and 5.2% for the other two species. Bsal was not found in samples from the remaining 27 species. Interestingly, five of these seven positive samples came from one location, Fa Sam Hang, and while the reason for this is unknown, it could have been due to environmental factors such as water and air temperature. Overall, the study found that Bsal is present in the Hong Kong newt population in more than one location, though the origin and time of infection is unknown. All positive individuals were asymptomatic; they carry fungal pathogens while not showing any symptoms of the disease.
An earlier study revealed a high prevalence of Bsal in the Wutongshan population of the Hong Kong newt in Guangdong province, adjacent to Hong Kong. So, while the current level of Bsal in the local population is very low, there is a definite possibility of transmission from neighbouring areas into Hong Kong. Since Bsal was found in more than one location, and because it persists, the negative impacts of Bsal on the Hong Kong newt are currently unknown. As such, long-term surveillance of the pathogen is critical to the conservation of the species and overall biodiversity of various amphibians in Hong Kong.
Conservation Chill Club Day 2021
This year, the Ocean Park Conservation Chill Club Day 2021 aimed to raise awareness and support local biodiversity research and education in Hong Kong. Held on 30th June, students from kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools, as well as members of the public, were invited to take part in a fun-filled day of activities to learn more about the importance of ecology and share their exciting discoveries and experiences. With a donation of as little as HK$10, those involved were encouraged to dress in their favourite active adventure wear at work, school, or home, helping to spread the message of conservation and raise funds for Ocean Park Conservation Foundation.
Kids in primary or secondary school got to listen to an Online Conservation Morning Assembly, received a special Conservation Educational Kit, and took part in Redd’s Ecotour to School Drawing Competition. At the kindergarten level, kids watched an Online Conservation Reading Play, made adventure hat together with Whiskers & Friends, and joined in The Most Creative Adventurist Costume Competition.
Chan Yi Lam from Ma Tau Chung Government Primary School
Tang Lok Hei from Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Primary School
The winner of Redd’s Ecotour School Drawing Competition is Chan Yi Lam from Ma Tau Chung Government Primary School while Tang Lok Hei from Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Primary School is the first runner up.
Poon Chun Sing from New Generation English Kindergarten (Tuen Mun)
Yau Ying Yu from Li Megan Kindergarten
The winner of The Most Creative Adventurist Costume Competition is Poon Chun Sing from New Generation English Kindergarten (Tuen Mun) while Yau Ying Yu from Li Megan Kindergarten is first runner up.
Since 2009, OPCFHK has successfully promoted its “Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Rearing Programme” to around 2,700 youngsters throughout Hong Kong. In collaboration with OPCFHK, researchers from City University of Hong Kong have been engaging with secondary school students to teach them about the conservation of horseshoe crabs, which has greatly helped to inspire the next generation of environmental conservationists. The “Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Rearing Programme” has taught these students about raising, observing, and recording the growth of horseshoe crabs, and releasing them into the wild.
This year, OPCFHK has received support from the Environment and Conservation Fund to further extend its activities to local primary schools. The project provides the best opportunity for young students to learn about the importance of conserving horseshoe crabs and protecting their natural habitat. So far, the programme has been available at two primary schools, namely The Salvation Army Lam Butt Chung Memorial School, and The Mission Covenant Church Holm Glad No. 2 Primary School. These engaging sessions have taught the primary school students about the life cycle and unique body structure of horseshoe crabs, in addition to discussing how they adapt to various environments and where they are most commonly found in Hong Kong. Important topics such as environmental pollution and overfishing were also discussed to help raise awareness about this endangered species. The sessions were designed to be highly interactive, with hands-on activities and engaging worksheets providing an excellent platform to connect with students. Led by experts from OPCFHK, the sessions were also hosted on Zoom, allowing students to watch live from different classrooms simultaneously. At the end, students had a better understanding about various topics related to environmental conservation.
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