15 October 2007 Society New Indian Species

The Dino Frog

The extinction of species is a threat, but happily India is discovering new ones
The Dino Frog
The Dino Frog
The World Conservation Union's scare a fortnight ago set the wires on fire—180 species of animals and plants on the threshold of extinction were added to the global Red List this year alone. But while the list of species in dire straits grows longer, we can at least celebrate the several new ones discovered in India in recent years.

Birds are a thoroughly catalogued group, thanks to the efforts of British Raj ornithologists. For much of the century, competitive bird-watchers have had to be satisfied with no more than an occasional rediscovery of a species thought extinct. For decades, interested birders searched randomly for the Forest Owlet in the wilds across the country, with no success. When a group of American ornithologists arrived in late 1997 to look for the bird, they zeroed in on the four locations where it had been seen previously. They hit the jackpot in the forests just outside Mumbai!

Sweet song Large-Billed Reed Warbler

But new discoveries? None for a very long time. Even the grand old man of Indian ornithology, Salim Ali, never had the honour of discovering one. So when Ramana Athreya, a professional astronomer on a bird-watching trip in Arunachal Pradesh, walked out of Eaglenest National Park two years ago with evidence of a new species of bird, the Bugun Liocichla, it sent an electric jolt of excitement among birders.

The pretty little bird hit the international headlines (even sharing space with a topless—human—model on page 3 of The Sun). Discovering a large primate creates even more international buzz—it's a gilt-edged invitation to the biological Hall of Fame. The last time a macaque was discovered was way back in 1903 in Sumatra. More than 100 years later in Arunachal Pradesh, a burly macaque dashed across the road, bringing biologists from the Nature Conservation Foundation to a screeching halt. A new monkey, the Arunachal Macaque, had just checked into the roll call of Indian fauna.

Far from the media glare, however, new species of reptiles are popping up from the remote forests of the Northeast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as in small fragmented forests of the Eastern Ghats of Orissa. This is truly the Age of Herpetological Discovery. While any other specialist would love to bask in the glory of finding at least one new species, researchers in India are now discovering myriads—so much so that they're hard-pressed to find names for them. Despite losing more than 80% of its forests, India is giving Costa Rica and Sri Lanka a run for their frogs.

By leaps The Pig-Nosed Frog


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