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The Eastern Himalayas has been found to harbour a treasure trove of biological diversity which is now threatened by climate change, a report by WWF reveals.

The report, The Eastern Himalayas- Where Worlds Collide, describes more than 350 new species discovered in the last decade including 244 plants, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, 2 birds, 2 mammals and at least 60 new invertebrates.

The report's release coincides with the start of another round of international climate talks in Bonn this week. WWF believes that in order to protect many new species and others under threat from dangerous climate change, delegates have to make significant progress ahead of high-level political meetings being held in Copenhagen in December.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of WWF Scotland said:

These exciting finds reinforce just how little we know about the world around us. In the Eastern Himalayas we have a region of extraordinary beauty and also some of the most biologically rich areas on the planet. Ironically, it is also one of the regions most at risk from climate change, as evidenced by the rapid retreat of the glaciers, and only time will tell how well species will be able to adapt - if at all."

Among the discoveries are a bright green flying frog (Rhacophorus suffry) which uses its red and long webbed feet to glide in the air, and the miniature muntjac, also called the "leaf deer", which is the world's oldest and smallest deer species. Scientists initially believed the small creature found in the world's largest mountain range, was a juvenile of another species but DNA tests confirmed the light brown animal with dark eyes was a distinct and new species.

Although no longer alive today, the 100 million-year-old gecko (Cretaceogekko burmae), the oldest fossil gecko species known to science, was discovered in an amber mine excavated in the Hukawng Valley in the far north on Myanmar.

The discoveries were made in a region spanning Bhutan and north-eastern India to the far north of Myanmar (Burma) as well as Nepal and southern parts of Tibet Autonomous Region (China).

The region harbours a staggering 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. The region also has the highest density of the Bengal tiger and is the last bastion of the charismatic greater one-horned rhino.

This hotspot of biological diversity is of global importance but also highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

WWF has launched the Climate for Life campaign to bring the plight of the Himalayas to the attention of the world and is working with local communities to help them cope with the impacts of climate change, however significant action has to be taken by developed countries. This is why WWF are calling on world leaders attending the climate change talks in Copenhagen this December to commit to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40% by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).

Dr Dixon added:

"There is no room for compromise on this issue; without serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the Himalayas face a disastrous future - potentially catastrophic both the unique wildlife and the 20% of humanity who rely on the river systems that arise in these mountains".

Notes to Editors:

[1] For more information on Climate for Life go to: www.climate4life.org

Because the region sits at the biogeographical crossroads of two continental plates, it contains an incredible wealth of biodiversity from both worlds. The Indo-Malayan Realm in the lowlands of the Eastern Himalayas is home to Asian elephants, clouded leopards, water buffalo, gaur, hornbills, cobras and geckos. The elevated Palearctic Realm to the north includes the snow leopard, red pandas, black bears, wolves, and a diverse assemblage of alpine ungulates, like takins, tahrs and blue sheep.

Importantly, the region comprises several priority landscapes for the Bengal tiger, Asia's largest carnivore, with the densest population of Bengal tigers in the world. The forests and grasslands along the base of the Eastern Himalayas are also the last bastion for the charismatic greater one-horned rhino, which once enjoyed a range spanning the entire length of the Himalaya foothills, from Pakistan to Myanmar but are now restricted to a few corners of India, Bhutan and Nepal.

Only 25% of the original habitats in the region remain intact and 163 species that live in the Eastern Himalayas are considered globally threatened.

Despite protection efforts, in the last half-century, this area of South Asia has faced a wave of pressures as a result of human population growth and the increasing demand for commodities by global and regional markets. The host of threats include forest destruction from unsustainable and illegal logging, agriculture, uncontrolled fuel wood collection, overgrazing by domestic livestock, illegal poaching and wildlife trade, hydropower development, and infrastructure. The region is also among the most vulnerable to global climate change, which will exacerbate the impacts of these threats.

[4] WWF Scotland is part of Stop Climate Chaos, an alliance of development, environment and civil society groups aiming for tougher action to reduce emissions - http://stopclimatechaosscotland.org
SCCS will be helping organise a Climate Change march in Glasgow on the 5th December, 2009.

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