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20 December 2017

115 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong

A snail-eating turtle discovered in a Thai food market and a horseshoe bat that would not look out of place in a Star Wars Movie, are just two of the 115 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region in 2016. Three mammals, 11 amphibians, two fish, 11 reptiles and 88 plants were found by scientists in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The species are detailed in Stranger Species, the new report from leading independent conservation organisation WWF.

Stuart Chapman, Regional Representative, WWF-Greater Mekong said: “More than two new species a week, and 2,500 in the past 20 years, speaks to how incredibly important the Greater Mekong is.”

Highlights of the report include:

  • A mountain horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus monticolus), found in the evergreen forests of mountainous Laos and Thailand that took 10 years to determine as a new species. Its horseshoe-shaped facial structure – known as a noseleaf -- is reminiscent of characters from the famous cantina scene in Star Wars.
  • A Vietnamese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus vietnamensis), that lives in remote freshwater and evergreen forest habitats of South China and Northern Vietnam. It is so heavily threatened by habitat destruction, coal mining and collection for the pet trade that as few as 200 individuals could remain in Vietnam. The lizard has been immortalized in a comic strip featuring “Shini,” who helps explain to school children the importance of protecting lizards.
  • A snail eating turtle (Malayemys isan), that was not discovered in a river or forest, but a local market in Northeast Thailand, having been caught in a nearby canal by shopkeepers. The turtle is threatened by infrastructure, such as dikes and dams, showing the need for protection under Thai law.
  • Two moles (Euroscaptor orlovi and Euroscaptor kuznetsovi), which were discovered in a network of streams and rivers in Northern Vietnam. As one of the discoverers of the species, Dr. Alexei Abramov, remarked, one of the ways moles managed to maintain stable populations and escape poachers is because they live underground inside protected areas.
  • A vibrantly coloured frog (Odorrana Mutschmanni), which is one of five new species discovered in the same karst forest in Northern Vietnam. These species are threatened by quarrying for cement and road construction and their karst forest home desperately needs new protection.
  • A loach (Schistura kampucheensis) fish from Cambodia with striking black and brown stripes on its elongated body.
  • A frog and four plant species from Myanmar – which is opening up to scientific exploration and could harbour hundreds of undiscovered species.

The new species discoveries come at a critical time: WWF’s latest Living Planet Report found that by 2020, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles could have declined by two thirds in just 50 years. The Greater Mekong region is under intense development pressure from mines to roads to dams, threatening the survival of the natural landscapes that make it so unique. Poaching for bushmeat or the multi-billion pound illegal wildlife trade puts additional pressure on the region’s wildlife, meaning many species could be lost before they are even discovered.

The illegal wildlife trade is decimating wildlife populations across the Greater Mekong, especially in the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet. This criminal trade threatens wildlife globally. A major driver of the trade is tourists from China and Vietnam traveling to areas such as MongLa and Tachilek in Myanmar, and border areas such as Boten and the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Laos.

Stuart Chapman said: “The species in the Greater Mekong deserve protection from unscrupulous collectors who are willing to pay thousands of dollars or more for the rarest, most unique and most endangered species. Golden Triangle markets operate with impunity in open view, so it is critical that governments in the region improve enforcement against poaching and close illegal wildlife markets, including notorious tiger and bear farms.”

WWF has launched an ambitious project to disrupt the trade by closing down the biggest markets in the Greater Mekong region. Working with partners and across borders, WWF will attempt to significantly reduce illegal trade in key threatened species such as elephants, tigers and rhinos, by raising awareness of the need for stronger laws and enforcement, supporting effective transboundary cooperation and improving law enforcement effectiveness at key border crossings.

Notes to Editors:

  • Photos, including captions and credits are available here.

  • Copies of the report, Stranger Species, are available upon request.

  • Stranger Species is the ninth in a series of reports highlighting new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong region. For past reports see here.

WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.

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