Himalayan wilderness yields 350 new species

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Smallest species of deer ever known among new forms of wildlife discovered

A A A

One of the last frontiers of nature has yielded more than 350 new species of animals and plants in just the last 10 years. The eastern Himalayas contain vast tracts of remote and inaccessible terrain that few scientists have managed to reach and which provide a home for some of the planet's most mysterious animals.

New species are turning up at a rate of 35 a year and highlights uncovered in the region since 1998 include the miniature muntjac ( Muntiacus putaoensis), also known as the leaf deer, which at 60 to 80cm tall and 11kg is the smallest species of deer in the world, and the Arunachal macaque ( Macaca munzala) – the first new monkey to be found in a century.

Among the most visually striking are the red-footed but otherwise bright green flying frog ( Rhacophorus suffry) and Smith's litter frog ( Leptobrachium smithi), which boasts huge golden eyes and was described by the WWF, which has compiled a report on the region, as "among the most extraordinary-looking" frogs in the world.

Other new species include catfish with sticky stomachs, a luridly green pit viper, a freshwater beetle living at 5,100 metres above sea level – higher than any other beetle – and a bird restricted to a site less than a square mile.

Overall, from 1998 to 2008, two mammals, two birds, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, 244 plants and more than 60 invertebrates have been identified in the region, according to the WWF report, The Eastern Himalayas – Where Worlds Collide.

The area is already the stronghold of the Bengal tiger, the only home of the snow leopards and the last sanctuary of the greater one-horned rhino, but has so much unknown wildlife that researchers expect many more discoveries to be made in the future.

The eastern Himalayas – divided between Nepal, Bhutan and parts of China, India, Bangladesh and Burma – is regarded as one of the most rugged and beautiful areas of the world.

Mark Wright of WWF said: "The exciting thing about this is it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know everything about the world. But this report shows there's still a huge amount out there about which we know almost nothing. Even once we've ticked the box of identifying a species we have only just scratched the surface of what there is to know."

Although they have only just been discovered, the new animals and plants are already under threat, as are many thousands of other species in the region. "While we can be really happy and excited about finding them, the elephant in the room is climate change," he said. "We know that along with the Poles, mountain areas are going to be the regions most heavily impacted by climate change. The data we have suggests it's warming in the Himalayas far faster than the global average."

The impacts, such as the spread of disease, the destruction of crops and the large migrations of people desperate to move to other parts of the world, will eventually be felt as far away as the UK.

"One in five of all mankind gets its river water from the water that rises in the Himalayas. One way or another, that's going to come back to haunt us in the UK at some stage. We will have to pick up the cost."

Discoveries have also been made of species which lived in the region millions of years ago and were preserved when they became encased in amber resin.

Among the creatures preserved in amber was the earliest known gecko ( Cretaceogekko burmae), from 100 million years ago which was identified in 2008. Others included the oldest known tick and the earliest recorded mushroom.

The region is a hotspot for wildlife and harbours a huge number of species including 10,000 plants, 300 mammals, 977 birds, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. WWF has launched the Climate for Life campaign to raise public awareness of environmental problems in the Himalayas and is working with local communities to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.

The wealth and variety of wildlife being found in the region makes the eastern Himalayas comparable with better recognised ecological hotspots such as Borneo.

However, despite its remoteness only 25 per cent of the original habitat remains intact and the plants and animals face threats including illegal logging, the spread of agriculture, poaching and pollution.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders