Only 25 percent of original habitats have survived in East Himalayas: WWF

 Only 25 per cent of the original habitats in the eastern Himalayas remain intact and hundreds of species in the region face threat to their existence from unbridled developmental activities and climate change, a new study has said.

Only 25 percent of original habitats have survived in East Himalayas: WWF

New Delhi: Only 25 per cent of the original habitats in the eastern Himalayas remain intact and hundreds of species in the region face threat to their existence from unbridled developmental activities and climate change, a new study has said.

The latest regional species discovery report--'Hidden Himalayas: Asia's Wonderland', a World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Living Himalayas initiative, while celebrating the discovery of 200 new species between 2009 and 2014, has also expressed concern over depletion of original habitats due to industrial growth, mining and climate change.

"This year's report goes beyond celebrating the discovery of new and unique species. The report underscores the dire threats facing the vibrant ecosystems.

"This includes 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," a WWF India statement said.

It said the region is currently facing a wide range of threats and pressures with climate change assessed as the "most serious".

It said population growth, deforestation, overgrazing, poaching, wildlife trade, mining, pollution and hydro-power development have all contributed to the pressures on the fragile ecosystem in the region.

"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.

While lamenting the negative impact of development on the region, the report said a virtual biological treasure trove of 200 species have been discovered 2009 and 2014.

The 211 discoveries include 133 plants, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, 10 amphibians, one reptile, one bird and one mammal. 

The report maps out scores of new species found by scientists from various organizations across the region spanning Bhutan, North-East India, Nepal, the far north of Myanmar and the southern parts of Tibet.

Some of the most striking discoveries include a vibrant blue dwarf 'walking' snake-head fish (Channaandrao) which can breathe atmospheric air and survive on land for up to four days although moving in a manner much clumsier than a smoothly slithering snake.

The report also details an "unfortunate" monkey (Rhinopithecusstrykeri) whose upturned nose leads to a sneeze every time the rain falls and a living gem - the bejeweled lance-headed pit viper (Protobothropshimalayansus) which could pass as a carefully crafted piece of jewelery.

"I am excited that the region is 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, CEO and Secretary General of WWF-India and Chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative.

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

Noting that the Eastern Himalayas is at "crossroads", the report said the governments can decide whether to follow the current path towards fragile economies that do not fully account for environmental impacts or take an alternative path towards greener, more sustainable economic development.

"The stakes are high. The Himalayas harbor at least 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. In addition to this, between 1998 and 2008 in the Eastern Himalayas, at least 354 new species were described as new to science," the report said.

WWF India said it has been 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.

It also urged nations in the region for a strong regional collaboration to ensure that people in this region - where ecological interconnectedness takes heightened reality - live within the ecological means and remain within the boundaries of one planet.

"Through approaches such as sustainable hydro-power development, valuation of natural capital, landscape and species conservation, climate change adaptation and sustainable financing mechanisms, WWF will continue to develop and support programmes in the region that help secure a brighter future for the region's people and biodiversity," it said.

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