The thin membrane of life that covers the earth continues to yield species that have not been recorded by science. The Fenwick's Antpitta, a diminutive, thrush-like bird found in the humid western Andean montane cloud forests of Colombia, is among the latest new species to be described. Every such find is a heart-warming moment for scientists, as it affirms that there is yet a lot to explore in the natural world. The deeper significance of the Antpitta discovery, however, is the confirmation that the earth's biodiversity is clinging on to shrinking spaces. It is revealing, for instance, that the habitat of this species, and that of many other threatened birds, is located in an area that is rich in metals and minerals. But it has been protected, thanks to significant support from non-profit initiatives. The bird's cloud forest home has been secured within a 11,322 acre-reserve through a partnership between the American Bird Conservancy and a Colombian conservation organisation, Fundacion Proaves. That the conservation organisations have successfully established a bird reserve in an area that attracts mining industries looking for high-grade gold, zinc, and copper offers hope and inspiration to many others trying to create similar models in biodiversity hotspots. A supportive role played by government is fundamental to such successes.
Birds are among the most studied creatures on earth. On average, three new bird species are described each year. There is some evidence to show that they also fare better than other threatened groups, such as plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates, based on a scale of rising gross national income and concomitant environmental degradation. It is a measure of their importance that if birds perish, some key processes in nature such as decomposition, pollination, and seed dispersal will decline. Sadly, nearly a quarter of the world's bird species are reckoned to be extinction-prone. It is welcome, therefore, that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the problem in his message for International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22). He pointed out that the rate at which plant and animal species are being lost is unprecedented. This does not bode well for the various ecosystem services that humans depend upon for their well-being. The imperative is to mainstream biodiversity concerns in development policy. The world resolved eight years ago to reduce the biodiversity loss sharply by 2010, but slipped badly on this Millennium Development Goal. The recording of every new species such as the Fenwick's Antpitta is a call for governments to act.