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'Yoda bat' stars in book of newly discovered species

By Matthew Knight for CNN
  • New book celebrates 20 years of new species discoveries by scientists
  • Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program has recorded 1,300+ new species
  • An estimated 1.9 million species are currently documented
  • As many as 10-30 million species of organisms yes to be described, say CI

London (CNN) -- From a bat christened "yoda" to frogs with inflating noses dubbed "Pinocchio."

Over the past 20 years, Conservation International's (CI) Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) has discovered all manner of new species in some of the world's most remote regions in an effort to promote and protect biodiversity.

To celebrate two decades of the program, CI are publishing "Still Counting..." -- a book charting the history of the program and showcasing some of its greatest finds.

The program has completed 80 surveys in 27 countries scouring land, sea and freshwater sites in search of new species.

But it has also fostered biodiversity too, says Louise Emmons, adjunct scientist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., who traveled on 14 RAP expeditions between 1990-1998.

There are so many undescribed species. People think science knows everything now and of course we haven't even begun
--Louise Emmons, Smithsonian Institute

"Our first expedition was to Madidi in Bolivia and that was immediately made into a huge national park -- one of the largest in South America. And after that an even greater biodiversity was discovered in the mountains that were linked to part of it," Emmons said.

To date, Conservation International say they have invested over $5 million in local and national economies worldwide as well as training hundreds of students and scientists in developing countries.

The program has also been very good for publicizing the amount we need to learn about biodiversity, Emmons says.

"There are so many undescribed species. People think science knows everything now and of course we haven't even begun," she said.

Since its inception in 1990, the program has collected data on more than 1,300 never-before-seen species -- over a third of which have now been formally named by taxonomists.

Conservation International estimate there are approximately 1.9 million documented species, but a further 10-30 million species remain undescribed.

"We know so little about each species still and the roles they play in keeping our planet healthy and functional, from filtering fresh water to dispersing seeds...and providing many life-saving medicines we rely upon," Leeanne Alonso, director of CI's Rapid Assessment Program, said in a statement.

"By publicizing their existence, we dramatically increase their chances of survival," she added.