Mysterious Mekong Report: New species discoveries 2012-2013
Adding to the fantastic bestiary of creatures living in the Greater Mekong are new characters such as the Cambodian Tailorbird, Laotian giant flying squirrel, ‘hunch-bat of Vietnam’, an iridescent-coloured rainbow lizard, a fish who is ahead of the reproduction game, the ‘Zorro’-masked water snake, a salmon-coloured orchid and a primitive whiteheaded viper. A skydiving gecko, giant flying frog, “fishzilla” (walking snakehead fish), brightly-coloured bronzeback snake, pufferfish and blind huntsman spider further add to the newly discovered assemblage.
These discoveries, painstakingly identified and recorded by the world’s scientists and compiled here by WWF-Greater Mekong, demonstrate that the region is the frontline for scientific exploration. But they also remind us of what we stand to lose if regional development is not sustainable. The recent extinction of the rhino in the region and the ongoing plight of the tiger, whose numbers in the region may be as low as 250 individuals, are poignant reminders of this. In addition, the devastating illicit trade in wildlife is now worth at least 16 billion US dollars annually.
WWF seeks a world that values, accounts for, and safeguards natural capital as vital to human well-being and economic prosperity. Our focus is on the world’s richest and most diverse natural capital including tropical forests and river basins. They underpin wellbeing and prosperity across entire regions, and yet, global markets value them more dead than alive. Today the region’s forests are being cleared on an industrial scale, mainly for land to produce commodities we all use. According to a recent WWF report, Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures, between 1973-2009 the Greater Mekong countries lost 42.4 million hectares of forest, 30 per cent of forest cover.
Our dynamic and innovative solutions-oriented approach to conservation sees us working with global networks of scientists, policymakers, businesses, financial institutions, and communities to help turn this around. Dwindling forests generate shortterm profits, but economists estimate that their true value to the global economy – if managed sustainably – could be in the order of trillions of dollars each year.
Today the Greater Mekong region forms part of one of the five most threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world.10 Rapid unsustainable development, including poorly planned infrastructure, uncontrolled and non-transparent extractive activities, and agricultural expansion, as well as the rampant wildlife trade, are profoundly degrading the health of the region’s ecosystems—and consequently, the well-being of the millions of people who directly depend on natural resources. Warmer temperatures, and more extreme floods, droughts, and storms as a result of climate change, only exacerbate these pressures.
Thorough and consistent management of ecosystems across the Greater Mekong region will help nations adequately address complex, challenging, and regional-scale issues like habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable natural resource use, poaching, and climate change.