Over 200 new species found in eastern Himalayas: WWF report

The findings show the region is one of the most biologically diverse

Kathmandu, October 6

A biological treasure trove of over 200 new species was discovered in the eastern Himalayas between 2009 and 2014, according to WWF Living Himalayas Initiative’s latest regional species discovery report.

The report, released yesterday on the occasion of World Habitat Day in Thimphu, Bhutan, is entitled ‘Hidden Himalayas: Asia’s Wonderland’, and maps out scores of new species found by scientists from various organisations across a region spanning Bhutan, north-east India, Nepal, the far north of Myanmar and the southern parts of Tibet.

This year’s report goes beyond celebrating the discovery of new and unique species and underscores the dire threats facing the vibrant ecosystems, including the sobering statistic that as a consequence of development, only 25 per cent of the original habitats in the region remain intact and hundreds of species that live in the Eastern Himalayas are considered globally threatened.

The volume and diversity of discoveries highlight that the region is one of the most biologically diverse places on the earth, the discoveries listed equating to an average of 34 new species being found every year for the past six years.

The 211 discoveries include 133 plants, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, 10 amphibians, one reptile, one bird and one mammal. Some of the most striking discoveries include a vibrant blue dwarf ‘walking’ snakehead fish (channa andrao), which can breathe atmospheric air and survive on land for up to four days.

“I am excited that the region – home to a staggering number of species, including some of the most charismatic fauna – continues to surprise the world with the nature and pace of species discovery,” said CEO of WWF-India and Chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, Ravi Singh.

The region is currently facing a wide range of threats and pressures, with climate change assessed as by far the most serious. Population growth, deforestation, overgrazing, poaching, wildlife trade, mining, pollution and hydropower development have all contributed to the pressures on the fragile ecosystems in the region, the report says.

“The challenge is to preserve our threatened ecosystems before these species, and others yet unknown, are lost,” said leader of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, Sami Tornikoski.

In a bid to protect the region’s rich diversity of flora and fauna, WWF is actively involved in supporting the countries of the eastern Himalayas’ progress towards green economies that value ecosystems and the services they provide to the millions of people in the region, a press statement issued by WWF Nepal said. Being located in perhaps one of the most ecologically fragile regions on the earth, the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative has urged a strong regional collaboration to ensure that people in this region live within the ecological means.