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August 11, 2009

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Biodiverse Himalayas fragile and threatened

THE world's smallest deer, a flying frog and a catfish that sticks to rocks - as well as more than 350 other species - have been discovered over the past decade in the Himalayas, making it one of the world's most biologically rich regions, an environmental group said yesterday.

But researchers warn that the effects of climate change, as well as development, threaten the diverse habitat that supports these species.

"This enormous cultural and biological diversity underscores the fragile nature of an environment which risks being lost forever unless the impacts of climate change are reversed," said Tariq Aziz, the leader of the World Wildlife Fund's Living Himalayas Initiative, a regional conservation program that covers India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The WWF is calling for the countries to develop a conservation plan for the region and for governments to give local communities more authority for environmental control.

Among the most exciting find was the miniature muntjac, the world's smallest deer species. Scientists at first believed the animal found in northern Myanmar was a juvenile of another species, but DNA tests confirmed it was distinct.

Scientists also found Rhacophorus suffry, a bright green frog in northeast India that uses its long, webbed feet to glide in the air.

They also discovered two chocolate-brown catfish from Nepal that have evolved unique adhesive undersides to stick to rocks in fast-moving streams.


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