A “walking” fish, a new kind of banana, and a monkey that sneezes whenever rainwater gets in its upturned nose are among the hundreds of stunning new species that’ve been found in the biologically rich region of the Eastern Himalayas in the last few years.
There were 211 previously unknown plants and animals uncovered between 2009 and 2014, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which assembled these discoveries by scouring peer-reviewed scientific journals that published research during those years on new species. Notes from the governments of Bhutan and Nepal, attached to the WWF’s compilation, praised the Eastern Himalayas for being a veritable “treasure trove” and “conservation jewel.”
Some of the discoveries came about thanks to scientific expeditions designed to sniff out new species; others came about quite haphazardly. Sneezing monkeys, for instance, were documented by conservationists after locals in Myanmar told them that the animals could be found on rainy days sitting with their head tucked between their knees to avoid the water.
The WWF’s compilation of discoveries was part celebratory, part cautionary. Wildlife in the Himalayas—one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth—is at grave risk from the effects of climate change, the organization warned. Its plants and animals are suffering from habitat destruction and human activity. The sneezing monkey is already unofficially classified as critically endangered.
High temperatures, storms, droughts, and floods caused by global warming are tampering with the area’s fragile ecosystem; human development is also a major source of harm.
Many scientists and conservationists have also noted that freshwater areas, like those in the Eastern Himalayas, must be protected in order to preserve environmental quality. Among other important functions, fresh water is vital for removing carbon from the atmosphere, filtering and purifying water, and acting as a natural flood barrier.
“We must conserve our shared natural heritage,” insisted Mahesh Acharya, Nepal’s minister for forests and soil conservation, in a letter attached to the WWF’s report. “Very few places on earth can match [the Himalayas’] breathtaking splendor and its diverse array of flora and fauna. Its rich natural resources provide a source of livelihoods for many both within and outside the region.”