Measures begin to curb GALS outbreak

Infestation: Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) began containment measures yesterday to stop Giant African Land Snails (GALS) from spreading out of Gyalpoizhing in Mongar where the outbreak occurs every year.

The authority has issued a notification seeking public cooperation to prevent further spread of the snail.

As per the Plant Quarantine Act 1993, BAFRA is mandated to quarantine the infested areas.

The BAFRA office in Mongar has set up three checkpoints. Six BAFRA staff supported by 10 temporary employees help man the Khalanzi checkpoint on the way to Mongar, the Thridangbi checkpoint towards Bumthang, and Yongri checkpoint towards Kengkhar and Jurmey gewogs.

Mongar’s BAFRA officer in-charge, Damcho Norbu, said all vehicles and high-risk goods moving out of the infested area are inspected. Officials inspect any high-risk goods from the infested areas before they are loaded onto vehicles.

Damcho Norbu said usually the measures begin at the end of June. But because most of the employees were on training in Thimphu, the programme had to be delayed. “We try to contain it as soon as it exceeds acceptable limit so that it doesn’t spread.”

The containment measures will go on until the end of October.

The outbreak has occurred annually after it was first spotted in 2008 near a school area in Gyalpoizhing, feeding on a wide range of vegetation such as crops, trees and also calcareous substances like concrete.

The outbreak has necessitated officials to tackle the problem because GALS in abundant vegetation multiply fast. It is known to harbour nematode that causes meningitis, an inflammatory condition that infects the brain and spinal cord.

People are advised to avoid touching the slime and to wash and cook their vegetables to kill the parasites.

GALS is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species in the world that can adapt to wide ranging climatic conditions from sub-tropic to temperate.

Officials said that the snail can grow to 20cm or more and, in a year, can lay around 1,000 to 1,200 eggs.  It has a life expectancy of up to 10 years.

The snails have gradually expanded their territory from the Gyalpoizhing town area to as far as Thridangbi and Khalanzi.

Tshering Palden

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