Some 34 new plant and animal species have been discovered annually over the past six years in the region east of the Himalayas, making it one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, says the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) in a new report released this week.
The region, which spans from central Nepal in the west to Myanmar in the east and includes the kingdom of Bhutan, as well as parts of northeast India and southern Tibet, is home to 211 newly identified species including 133 plants, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, 10 amphibians, one reptile, one bird, and one mammal.
“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, CEO of WWF-India and Chair of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative in a statement.
In total an estimated 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, nearly 1,000 different species of birds and hundreds of species of reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish inhabit the Eastern Himalayas, “one of the most ecologically fragile regions on Earth,” according to WWF.
“Endowed with exceptionally rich flora and fauna, the region is truly a conservation jewel,” said Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan’s Minister for Agriculture and Forests in the report’s introduction.
But while these discoveries signal a great step forward, biologists and conservationists are concerned about a number of threats facing the region.
Due to land development, only 25 percent of the original habitats in the Eastern Himalayas remain intact and hundreds of species that call the region home are considered globally threatened.
“The challenge is to preserve our threatened ecosystems before these species, and others yet unknown are lost,” Sami Tornikoski, leader of the WWF Living Himalayas Initiative, said in the statement.
Climate change is the most serious threat to the region, but construction, mining, and oil and gas projects also divest natural resources and habitats from the flora and fauna. WWF says that illegal hunting, logging, and fishing as well as water pollution and tourism have an impact.
"The eastern Himalayas is at a crossroads,” Ms. Tornikoski said. “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."
WWF suggests that the transition to green economies, would help alleviate threats to the region. The report calls on governments to “seek to achieve a balance between conserving what is unquestionably some of the world’s most important biodiversity and ensuring that natural resources are used sustainably to support economic development.”