New Delhi: A blue-eyed frog, a horned frog, a bird with an unusually high-pitched note, a vibrant blue dwarf “walking” snakehead fish, a Dracula fish, a snub-nosed monkey and a lance-headed pit viper are among the 211 new species discovered in the eastern Himalayas in the last six years, said the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative’s latest regional species discovery report released on Monday.
The report, however, cited factors like climate change, mining, oil and gas projects, construction of roads and new dams, wildlife trade and pollution as threats to the fragile ecosystems in the region and suggested a series of measures like restoring damaged ecosystems, sustainable hydropower development, species conservation, climate change adaptation and regional collaboration to tackle the threat.
Released in Bhutan on the occasion of World Habitat Day, the report Hidden Himalayas: Asia’s Wonderland termed the eastern Himalayan region—Bhutan, north-eastern Indian states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim, North Bengal, the far north of Myanmar, Nepal and southern Tibet—as one of the richest areas on earth biologically.
The 211 discoveries made during the 2009-14 period include 133 plants, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, 10 amphibians, one reptile, one bird and one mammal, the report said.
Some of the most striking discoveries include a vibrant blue dwarf “walking” snakehead fish (Channa andrao) that can breathe atmospheric air and survive on land for up to four days, an unfortunate monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri) whose upturned nose leads to a sneeze every time it rains and a living gem—the bejewelled lance-headed pit viper (Protobothrops himalayansus).
Between 1998 and 2008, in the eastern Himalayas, at least 354 new species were described as new to science, the report pointed out.
“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 Ravi Singh, chief executive officer and secretary general of WWF-India and chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative.
The report said the volume and diversity of discoveries highlight that the region is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth as, on average, 34 new species have been found every year for the past six years.
The eastern Himalayas includes four of the globe’s 200 ecoregions—critical landscapes of international biological importance—and is home to more than 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 freshwater fish. The region also has the highest density of the Bengal tiger and is the last bastion of the greater one-horned rhino.
The report underlined several threats to the unique ecosystem.
“Only 25% of the original habitats in the eastern Himalayas remain intact… hundreds of species that live in the eastern Himalayas are considered globally threatened. The natural landscape of the region is currently facing a wide range of threats and pressures, with climate change assessed as by far the most serious, followed by mining, oil and gas projects, road construction and construction of new dams,” said the report.
Population growth, deforestation, overgrazing, poaching, wildlife trade and pollution have all contributed to the pressures on the fragile ecosystems in the region, the report added.
Stating that the eastern Himalayas is at a crossroads, the report said governments can decide whether to follow the current path of development that do not fully account for environmental impacts, or take an alternative path towards greener, more sustainable economic development.
The report suggested measures like restoring damaged ecosystems, stopping loss of habitats, expanding protected areas, sustainable economic development with sustainable hydropower development, landscape and species conservation, climate change adaptation, among others.
It also called for a stronger regional collaboration between countries and a common vision for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and natural resources in the region.
“One important step the governments of the region can take is to transition to a green economy. The concept of a green economy is a model for sustainable development that takes into account the global economic benefits of biodiversity,” the report explained.