COLOMBO: Conservationists in Sri Lanka, the world’s top spot for frogs, have discovered 35 new species of the amphibians — only to find that another 19 species have died out.

Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Heritage Trust (WHT), in a report to be published Thursday, blames habitat loss on the tropical island for the die-off.

“The ravages of habitat loss in Sri Lanka’s once rain-forested wet zone have been severe, and there is a compelling argument for intensive conservation management of the surviving forest,” the Trust’s Rohan Pethiyagoda said.

In a decade-long study, they found evidence of 35 new frog species, confirming the Indian Ocean island as the world’s number one spot for frogs, with more than 200 known species, ahead of rainforest-rich, biodiverse Costa Rica, Pethiyagoda told AFP.

They also found other previously unknown biodiversity — 50 new snail species, 16 new crabs, seven new lizards and an as yet unknown species of mouse deer, he said.

“A lot of people thought we had documented all the species during the time of the British (1815-1948), but what we are discovering is that it is not the case and we are finding more,” the internationally acclaimed conservationist wrote in the latest Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, to be published on Thursday by the University of Singapore.

In another contribution to the Raffles Bulletin, biologist Benito C. Tan said he had in the past few years discovered five new mosses in two little-known mountain forests in central Sri Lanka.

Tan, from the biological science department at the university, said the discovery had “meaningful phytogeographical significance.”

The conservationists, however, are more worried about the threat to wildlife habitat and rainforests.

“These discoveries provide, however, little cause for jubilation,” Pethiyagoda said.

According to the World Conservation Union, 19 of the 34 amphibian species identified as extinct worldwide are from Sri Lanka, he said.

Mourning the lack of effort made to protect the animals and their inland habitat, he added: “I wish they had been affected by the tsunami because then we would have got some foreign assistance for conservation.”

While the December tsunami killed some 31,000 people and damaged the island’s fragile coral reefs, it did not affect the frog population because they were not concentrated near coastlines as they dislike salt water, he said.

Sri Lanka may be the country with the highest number of endemic frog species, but it has also seen the fastest die-off, he said.

The timeline and the causes of the extinction of the 19 species, however, were still poorly understood, Pethiyagoda said.

“We can’t be sure when exactly that happened, and we don’t know for sure what caused the extinction,” he said.—AFP

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