An aggressive iguana-like lizard that changes color to defend itself, a highly venomous snake named after a Chinese mythological goddess, a pink orchid that looks like a bee, a bat with mouse-like ears and a tree frog whose skin resembles moss are five of the 380 new species described by scientists in the Greater Mekong region, in expeditions carried out during 2021 and 2022, according to the WWF report published that week.
The good news of the discovery of this great variety of species is accompanied by the warning that many of them are in danger of extinction due to human activities, for which reason WWF urges the governments of the region to "increase the protection of these rare and unique species, as well as their habitats.
The report documents the work of hundreds of scientists from universities, conservation organizations and research institutes around the world who discovered more than 290 plants, 19 fish, 24 amphibians, 46 reptiles and one mammal in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. This brings the total number of vascular plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals described from the Greater Mekong region since 1997 to a total of 3,389.
"These remarkable species may be new to science, but they have survived and evolved in the Greater Mekong region for millions of years, reminding us of humans who were here long before our species moved to this region," he said. K. Yoganand, WWF-Greater Mekong Regional Wildlife Leader. "We have an obligation to do everything possible to prevent their extinction, protect their habitats and help their recovery."
Highlights of the new WWF Greater Mekong report:
The Cambodian blue crested agama, scientifically named Calotes goetzi, an aggressive lizard that changes color as a defensive mechanism, was identified after studying lizards found near an Angkor-era archaeological site.
Hayes's thick-thumbed bat, is a mouse-eared bat with unusual fleshy thumbs that was named as a new species after a specimen sat in a Hungarian museum for 20 years.
The Khoi Mossy Frog, a great discovery, has a mossy green color that helps it blend into any rocky, leafy, lichen- and moss-covered background.
Dendrobium fuscifaucium, a miniature orchid with bright pink and yellow color that resembles a bee.
The 'Bungarus suzhenae' snake, an extremely venomous snake, named after Bai Su Zhen, a goddess of snakes from a Chinese myth called ''The Legend of the White Snake''.
Cleyera bokorensis, a green shrub threatened by a Cambodian casino, dam construction, and residential development.
The Thai crocodile salamander from Vietnam is threatened by communities that use it as a traditional cure for abdominal pain and parasitic infections.
Thailand's bent-toed gecko 'Cyrtodactylus rukhadeva' was named after a nymph, Rukha Deva, who lives in trees and protects forests. Discovered in the Tenasserim Mountains bordering Myanmar, it aggressively opens its mouth and flicks its tail from side to side when threatened.
A new species of gecko discovered in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, whose home is being bulldozed by construction projects.
A semi-aquatic snake, Hebius terrakarenorum, found in Dawna-Tenasserim, between Thailand and Myanmar. It is 650 mm long and was identified only from photographs and road kill specimens collected over a decade.
The new report from the Greater Mekong highlights that many of the described species are under intense pressure due to deforestation, habitat degradation, road development, loss of streams and rivers, pollution, disease spread by human activity. , competition from invasive species and the devastating impacts of the illegal wildlife trade. Unfortunately, many species go extinct before they are even discovered.
In the foreword to the report, Dr. Truong Q. Nguyen, from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, notes that immediate action is required and increased use of new technologies such as bioacoustics and genetic sequencing to help scientists discover more species in this place very rich in biodiversity. "To reverse the rapid loss of biodiversity in the region, more concrete, science-based efforts must be made, and conservation measures need more attention from governments, NGOs and the public themselves," he commented.
WWF works with governments, communities, non-profit organizations and private partners in the five Greater Mekong countries on conservation strategies designed to protect these species and their habitat. They work through these alliances to protect emblematic species such as Asian elephants, Irrawaddy dolphins and tigers, as well as the forests, rivers and oceans on which they depend. To halt the decline of wildlife, WWF is strengthening protected areas and fighting illegal wildlife trafficking, as well as its online trade.