August 10, 2009

Hundreds Of New Species Found In Himalayas

More than 350 new species including the world's smallest deer, a flying frog, a 100 million-year old gecko, and the first new monkey to have been discovered in over a century have been found in the last ten years located in the Eastern Himalayas. Now, climate change threatens this biologically rich habitat.

An environmental group says the growing pressures from unsustainable development in the area is confronting the vital habitats of the mountain range spanning across Nepal, China, India, Bhutan and Myanmar with immense pressures.

A new report claims that climate change, deforestation, overgrazing by domestic livestock and illegal poaching and wildlife trading were the greatest threats to one of the most  biologically rich areas on Earth.

The WWF is requesting that the governments of Bhutan, India and Nepal make a commitment to work with conservation efforts in the geographic region that goes beyond the borders of the three countries in order to protect and preserve the landscape and the livelihoods of those living in the Eastern Himalayas.

"In the last half-century, this area of South Asia has faced a wave of pressures as a result of population growth and the increasing demand for commodities," said the report, "The Eastern Himalayas -- Where Worlds Collide."

"Only 25 percent of the original habitats in the region remain intact. For the unique species of the Eastern Himalayas, this means that today 163 are considered globally threatened," it said.

According to the WWF, 353 new species were discovered in the region in the past decade, such as a red-footed tree frog known as a "flying frog", which got its name because of its large webbed feet that allow it to glide rather than fall.

Another new species was a kind of caecilian, an amphibian without limbs that looks like a big underground earthworm. This is an important find because caecilians are one of the least-studied creatures in the world.

Also living there is the world's smallest deer. It is a miniature muntjac only 25-30 inches tall and was found in northern Myanmar.

And one of the more interesting finds is the first new monkey species to be discovered in over 100 years.

The new species of macaque is one of the highest-dwelling monkeys in the world, living in India's Arunachal Pradesh state at between 5,000 and 11,500 feet above sea level, according to WWF.

There were also 242 new plant varieties discovered, including an ultramarine blue flower that two Chinese botanists found when they went down into a Tibetan gorge twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in some places.

The incredibly rare flower was described by WWF as "dramatic in both color and form".

The flower is perhaps the best symbol of the effects of climate change in the region as its color changes according to temperature and exposure. As the temperatures drop, its color becomes pure blue, but darkens to a purple when the temperature rises.

The eastern Himalayas has 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species and nearly 1,000 bird species, and is the only place on earth that the greater one-horned rhino exists.

"This enormous cultural and biological diversity underscores the fragile nature of an environment which risks being lost forever unless the impacts of climate change are reversed," said Tariq Aziz, leader of the WWF's Living Himalayas initiative.

The report's findings will be taken into consideration as world leaders get ready for the climate meeting in Copenhagen in December where they must make a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.


Image 1: A male Gumprecht's green pitviper (Trimeresurus gumprechti).  Officially discovered in 2002, Gumprecht's green pitviper is venomous and capable of growing to 130cm in length. Scientists predict that larger specimens exist. The species is known to occur around Putao, at altitudes above 400m in the far north of Myanmar. There are some striking differences between the males and females of this species; females reach a greater size, with a thin, white or whitish-blue streak on the head, and deep yellow eyes; males are shorter, have a red stripe on the head, and bright red or deep red eyes. Courtesy Gernot Vogel - WWF Nepal

Image 2: Flying frog (Rhacophorus suffry).  The bright green, red-footed tree frog Rhacophorus suffry, a so-called "ËœFlying frog' because long webbed feet allow the species to glide when falling, was described in 2007. Courtesy Totul Bortamuli - WWF Nepal


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