Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Discoveries in the times of extinctions

Over 350 species discovered in the Eastern Himalayas

Chitwan Scorpion (Heterometrus nepalensis)

While the world is reeling under the impacts of climate change with the possible extinctions of species, the new findings in the Eastern Himalayas spanning Bhutan, the north-eastern Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, North Bengal and Sikkim, the far north of Myanmar (Burma), Nepal and southern parts of Tibet Autonomous Region, have delighted the conservation fraternity.

Over 350 new species including the world’s smallest deer, a “flying frog” and a 100 million-year old gecko have been discovered in the 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.

(The WWF report The Eastern Himalayas – Where Worlds Collide details discoveries made by scientists from various organizations between 1998 and 2008)

In Nepal alone 94 new species were discovered which include 40 plants, 36 invertebrates, 7 fish, 2 amphibians, and 9 reptiles.

One of the most remarkable discoveries in Nepal was Heterometrus nepalensis, a scorpion new to the world discovered in the Chitwan National Park in 2004. This discovery was significant as it was the first species of scorpion ever to be discovered in the country and was given the name to honour the occasion.

The Eastern Himalayas report also mentions the miniature muntjac, also called the “leaf deer” (Muntiacus putaoensis) which is 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.

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.

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