Himalaya Forests Vanishing, Species May Follow, Study Says

May 30, 2006

Massive, unreported deforestation in Himalaya mountain forests may push tigers, rhinos, rare birds, and other wildlife to extinction, a new study warns.

Based on an analysis of regional satellite images, Indian scientists say almost a quarter of the species unique to the Himalaya could vanish by 2100.

At least 35 animal species and 366 plants may disappear unless urgent action is taken to conserve remaining forests, the team warns.

The Himalaya are recognized as one the world's biodiversity hotspots—zones unusually abundant in species. (See an interactive map and wildlife guide to the eastern Himalayan forests.)

The mountain range runs along India's northern border with China and stretches east through Nepal and Bhutan (See map of India and South Asia).

Research published last year in the journal Science concluded that the region's watersheds are biologically richer than the Amazon's.

But authors of a new study in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation say Himalayan deforestation threatens "catastrophic losses of unique biodiversity."

Lead author Maharaj Pandit of the University of Delhi says those species already facing severe habitat loss—including the endangered Hoolock gibbon, musk deer, and Himalayan monal pheasant—are most at risk.

His team based their findings on high-resolution satellite images of the Indian Himalaya, which suggest the region has lost 15 percent of its forest cover since the 1970s.

Guided by current deforestation rates, the authors calculated that two-thirds of the region's dense forest will disappear by 2100.

They further predict that by century's end forests will cover just 10 percent of the Indian Himalaya.

The more populated western Himalaya are projected to suffer the worst deforestation, losing almost 60 percent of total cover.

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