Just as an amateur explorer with a metal detector recently found an astonishing hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver in England’s Midlands, scientists have discovered a biological treasure trove in the Eastern Himalayas. More than 350 new species have been unveiled after a decade of research in some of the most remote mountain areas on earth. Among them are the world’s oldest and second-smallest deer, a 100 million-year-old gecko, and a bright “flying frog” that uses its long, red webbed legs to glide through the air.
The discoveries, made by scientists from various organizations between 1998 and 2008, are detailed in a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, The Eastern Himalayas–Where Worlds Collide. It lists 244 plants, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, 2 birds, 2 mammals and at least 60 new invertebrates, identified in a region ranging from Bhutan and northeast India to northern Myanmar, and from Nepal to the southern part of Tibet. Till recently, few biological surveys have been carried out in this largely inaccessible terrain, and many areas remain unexplored.
The exciting finds should be accompanied by concern, however, according to Jon Miceler, Director of WWF’s Eastern Himalayas Program, who cites the vulnerability of the culturally and biologically diverse region to global warming. “This rugged and remarkable landscape is already seeing direct, measurable impacts from climate change and risks being lost forever.”
In addition to its 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish, the Eastern Himalayas also has the highest density of Bengal tigers in the world and is the last remaining habitat for the greater one-horned rhino.