Flying frog among hundreds of new species discovered in Eastern Himalayas
A decade of research carried out by scientists in remote mountain areas endangered by rising global temperatures brought exciting discoveries such as a bright green frog (Rhacophorus suffry) which uses its red and long webbed feet to glide in the air.
One of the most significant findings was not exactly “new” in the classic sense. A 100-million year-old gecko, the oldest fossil gecko species known to science, was discovered in an amber mine in the Hukawng Valley in Himalayan regions of far northern Myanmar.
The WWF report The Eastern Himalayas – Where Worlds Collide details discoveries made by scientists from various organizations between 1998 and 2008 in a region reaching across Bhutan and north-east India to the far north of Myanmar as well as Nepal and southern parts of Tibet Autonomus Region (China).
“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, the leader of WWF's Living Himalayas Initiative.
“People and wildlife form a rich mosaic of life across this rugged and remarkable landscape, making it among the biologically richest areas on Earth. But the Himalayas are also among the most vulnerable to global climate change.”
In December world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to reach an agreement on a new climate deal, which will replace the existing Kyoto Protocol.
“Only an ambitious and fair deal based on an agreement between rich and poor countries can save the planet and its treasures such as the Himalayas from devastating climate change,” said Kim Carstensen, the Leader of the WWF’s Global Climate Initiative.
The Eastern Himalayas report also mentions the miniature muntjac, also called the “leaf deer” (Muntiacus putaoensis) which is one of the world’s oldest and smallest deer species.
Scientists initially believed the small creature found in the world’s largest mountain range was a juvenile of another species but DNA tests confirmed the light brown animal with innocent dark eyes was a distinct and new species.
The Eastern Himalayas are now known to harbour a staggering 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. The region also has the highest density of the Bengal tiger and is the last bastion of the charismatic greater one-horned rhino.
WWF aims to conserve the habitat of endangered species such as the majestic snow leopard, Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, red pandas, takins, golden langurs, rare Gangetic dolphins and one-horned rhinos as well as thousands of plant and animal species left to discover in the Eastern Himalayas region.
Eastern Himalayas- Where Worlds Collide describes more than 350 new species discovered - including 244 plants, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, 2 birds, 2 mammals and at least 60 new invertebrates.
Historically, the rugged and largely inaccessible landscape of the Eastern Himalayas has made biological surveys in the region extremely difficult. As a result, wildlife has remained poorly surveyed and there are large areas that are still biologically unexplored.
Today further species continue to be unearthed and many more species of amphibians, reptiles and fish are currently in the process of being officially named by scientists. The Eastern Himalayas is certainly one of the last biological frontiers of Asia with many new discoveries waiting to be made.