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October 26, 2010
9:05 AM

CONTACT: World Wildlife Fund

Monica Echeverria
(202) 495-4626

Amazing Discoveries in the Amazon: New Species Found Every Three Days Over Last Decade

WASHINGTON - October 26 - Between 1999 and 2009, more than 1,200 new species of plants and vertebrates were discovered in the Amazon biome – a rate of one new species every three days – confirming the Amazon as one of the most diverse places on Earth, says a WWF report. High-resolution photographs of many of these new and unusual species, as well as video footage, is available for download.

“This report clearly shows the incredible diversity of life in the Amazon and what we could lose if we don’t act now,” said Francisco Ruiz, Leader of WWF’s Living Amazon Initiative. “We need to change the way we think about development and promote conservation at a regional level that provides economic, social, and environmental benefits to people in the region and those within the Amazon’s far-reaching climatic influence,” added Ruiz.

The new species outlined in “Amazon Alive: A Decade of Discoveries 1999-2009” include 637 plants, 257 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 16 birds and 39 mammals.

Among the new species discovered:

  • The first new anaconda species identified since 1936. The four meter long snake, Eunectes beniensis was initially believed to be the result of hybridization between green and yellow anacondas, but was later determined to be a distinct species. It was originally discovered in 2002 in Bolivia’s north-eastern Amazon province then was later found in the floodplains of Bolivia’s Pando province.
  • A frog with an incredible burst of flames on its head and contrasting water-patterned legs. One of the most extraordinary species discovered in the last decade, the frog, Ranitomeya amazonica’s main habitat is near the Iquitos area in the region of Loreto, Peru, which is primary lowland moist forest. The frog, first discovered in 1999, has also been found in the Alpahuayo Mishana National Reserve in Peru.
  • A bald-headed parrot that displays an astonishing spectrum of colors.  The parrot, Pyrilia aurantiocephala, which was discovered in 2002, has been observed in just a few locations in the Lower Madeira and Upper Tapajos rivers in Brazil.  It has since been listed as a “near threatened” species due to its moderately small population and declining habitat.
  • A new separate species of the pink river dolphin that is unique to Bolivia.  The Amazon River dolphin or pink river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) was originally discovered in the 1830s. In 2006, scientific evidence showed that the Bolivian dolphin is a separate species, and unique to that country. It differs from other Amazon river dolphins in that it has more teeth, a smaller head and a shorter but wider body.  Some scientists consider the Bolivian dolphin to be a subspecies of Inia geoffrensis, while others have classified it as a wholly new species and have given it the scientific name, Inia boliviensis.  
  • A blind, tiny, bright red new species of catfish that lives underground. Discovered in 2007 in the Brazilian state of Rondonia, the fish, Phreatobius dracunculus, lives mainly in subterranean waters. It was originally found during the digging of a well in the village of Rio Pardo when several of the fish were accidentally trapped in buckets used to extract water. The species has since been found in another 12 of 20 wells in the region.

Although most of the Amazon region remains fairly undisturbed, the threats to it are rapidly increasing. During the last 50 years humankind has caused the destruction of at least 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest – this is an area greater than the size of Venezuela or twice the size of Spain.

In an effort to safeguard the Amazon’s species and habitats, world governments meeting this week in Nagoya, Japan, for the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity are considering a multilateral approach to create a complete and effectively managed system of protected areas in the Amazon region.  

“Many of the discoveries of new species have been made in the Amazon network of protected areas,” said Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International.  “This year - the Year of Biodiversity – is an excellent opportunity for Heads of State to help protect even more the Amazon’s diversity of life to ensure the survival of species that live there and the continued provision of environmental goods and services that we all benefit from,” added Kakabadse.

Through its Living Amazon Initiative, WWF is working toward a comprehensive approach to work with governments, civil society, and the private sector to promote the transformational process needed to bring about an alternative scenario to better preserve the Amazon’s biodiversity.

WWF’s goal for the Amazon region is to reach a shared vision in which:

  • Development is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable;
  • Natural ecosystems are valued appropriately for the environmental goods and services they provide;
  • Agreement is reached regarding tenure and rights to land;
  • Agriculture and ranching are carried out following best management practices; and
  • Transportation and energy infrastructure development is well-planned to minimize environmental impacts and impoverishment of cultural diversity.

The fate of the Amazon – and of its species whether known or yet to be discovered - depends on a significant shift in the current way development is embraced by all Amazon countries,” added Ruiz.

The largest multinational conservation organization in the world, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature.

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