December 28, 2010

Peruvian Amazon Teeming With New Species, And Threats

Every year new species are discovered in the Peruvian Amazon, known for its biodiversity where conservation and danger often go hand in hand.

The Amazon covers 60 percent of Peru and it is a hotbed of bio-activity and home to 25,000 species of plants, which is 10 percent of the world's stock.

Peru holds the world's second-largest bird population and is among the top five countries for mammals and reptiles.

Scientists found a previously unknown leech and a new type of mosquito this year alone.

The animal population has grown in recent years, namely adding a mini poison dart frog with a fire-red head and blue legs, a purple-throated Sunangel hummingbird and a "tyrannosaurus leech" with eight teeth.

According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, over 1,200 new species of plant or animals have been discovered in 10 years in the Amazon.  The novel species are often discovered during the very activities that threaten the Amazon the most.

"Most of these discoveries don't happen during scientific expeditions, which are often costly. They most often come when workers are digging exploration sites for oil, mining or lumber companies," WWF Peru's Amazon program director Michael Valqui told AFP.

"This type of discovery is also simultaneously endangering the species that is being discovered in its one and only habitat."

Peru is home to one of the biggest forest lands and is also a magnet for resource extraction.

According to the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America, the number of concessions granted has doubled since 2006 to cover 16 percent of the territory.

Peru boasts of being on the cutting edge of conservation, with 15 percent of its territory under protected status.

"And we're aiming for 30 percent," Environment Minister Antonio Brack told AFP.

Environmentalists worry about the future of biodiversity and the species living outside these protected zones.

"There are no clear signals as to what the country intends to do to protect biodiversity," Ivan Lanegra, representative of the influential government-funded Peruvian ombudsman office, told AFP.

Gerard Herail of France's IRD research and development institute in Lima said that "a mining or hydrocarbons firm is not innately destructive. The key is whether or not it is 'clean'," or uses cleaner methods and technologies.

Ernesto Raez, who heads the Sustainable Development Center at Cayetano Heredia University of Lima, said that more species are disappearing than are being discovered around the world.

"In other words, species are disappearing before we discover them," he told AFP.

However, the IRD says the very context of their disappearance allows the group to "develop biodiversity conservation strategies," like those deployed successfully for the huge arapaima or pacha fish, which is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world.

According to 2004 figures, twenty-one species remain in "critical danger" of extinction in Peru.  The leaf-eared mouse is thought to have already disappeared.

The Lima gecko, a minuscule nocturnal lizard is also in critical danger, shows the complex relationships between threat and conservation.

The gecko finds its habitat in the darkest corners of the huacas, pre-Hispanic burial grounds or ritual sites that dot Lima and the coast.

"But archeologists' maintenance work, crucial for conservation, is exactly what's destroying the gecko's habitat" and triggering its downfall, Valqui told AFP.

Image Credit: NASA


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