New species discovered every two days in the Mekong

Posted on December, 12 2011

A new monkey, a self-cloning skink, five carnivorous plants, and a unique leaf warbler are among the 208 species newly described by science in the Greater Mekong region in 2010 and highlighted in a new WWF report, Wild Mekong
***Jan 2012 update:  First images of newly discovered primate***

Hanoi, Vietnam - A new monkey, a self-cloning skink, five carnivorous plants, and a unique leaf warbler are among the 208 species newly described by science in the Greater Mekong region in 2010 and highlighted in a new WWF report, Wild Mekong.

While the report affirms the Mekong as a region of extraordinary biodiversity, WWF is calling on the six leaders from the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) meeting next week in Myanmar to put the benefits of biodiversity, and the costs of losing it, at the centre of decision-making and regional cooperation.

The Myanmar summit will endorse a new strategy guiding the next decade of economic cooperation among the GMS countries. WWF warns the Greater Mekong’s valuable natural assets and species will continue to disappear without accelerated efforts to green the region’s economies.

“Mekong governments have to stop thinking about biodiversity protection as a cost and recognise it as an investment to ensure long-term stability,” said Stuart Chapman, Conservation Director of WWF Greater Mekong. “It is ultimately this natural capital upon which the Greater Mekong’s prosperity is built.”

Among the ten species highlighted in the WWF report is the snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus strykeri). Found in Myanmar’s remote and mountainous Kachin state, locals say the monkey can be spotted with its head between its knees in wet weather to avoid rain running into its upturned nose.

A staggering array of 28 reptiles was also newly discovered in 2010, including an all-female lizard (Leiolepis ngovantrii) in Vietnam that reproduces via cloning without the need for male lizards. Five
species of carnivorous pitcher plants were also discovered across Thailand and Cambodia, with some species capable of luring in and consuming small rats, mice, lizards and even birds.

“While the 2010 discoveries are new to science, many are already destined for the dinner table, struggling to survive in shrinking habitats and at risk of extinction.” added Chapman.

The extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam, recently confirmed by WWF, is one tragic indicator of the decline of biodiversity in the region. The Mekong’s wild places and wildlife are under extreme pressure from rapid, unsustainable development and climate change.

“The region’s treasure trove of biodiversity will be lost if governments fail to invest in the conservation and maintenance of biodiversity, which is so fundamental to ensuring long-term sustainability in the face of global environmental change,” concluded Chapman.

Wild Mekong spotlights 10 species newly identified by science, among the 145 plants, 28 reptiles, 25 fish, 7 amphibians, 2 mammals, and 1 bird all discovered in 2010 within the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia that spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan. The report reveals an average of one new species recorded by science every two days in the region.

More information: 
  • Wild Mekong is the fourth in a series of reports highlighting new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong region. The initial report First Contact was released in December 2008 and showcased the discovery of over 1000 new species discoveries in the region between 1997 and 2007. In total, 1584 species in the Greater Mekong have been newly described by science between 1997 and 2010. 
  • The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Summit is a tri-annual event attended by leaders from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The meeting will be held in Myanmar on Dec 19 and 20th .The Summit will endorse the new 10-year strategic plan for the GMS. WWF is calling for the governments of the GMS to green the GMS Master plan, by (i) undertaking environmental valuation and accounting for natural capital depreciation; (ii) prioritizing investment and spending in areas that stimulate greening of economic sectors and in areas of known practices that can secure the ecological integrity of the region; and (iii) devise focused capacity building and training programmes as well as regulatory framework reforms.
While this species, sporting an Elvis-like hairstyle, is new to science, the local people of Myanmar know it well. Scientists first learned of “Snubby” - as they nicknamed the species - from hunters in Myanmar’s forested, remote, and mountainous (Himalayan) Kachin state in early 2010. This illustration is the only representation of a scientifically observed specimen to date.
© Martin Aveling / Fauna & Flora International
A new psychedelic gecko species was discovered this past year on Hon Khoai Island,18 km off the southern tip of the Ca Mu Peninsula in southern Vietnam. The new species is unique in that it displays a remarkable psychedelic pattern of bright orange appendages; a dense, yellow neck overlying thick, black, lines; and a blue-gray body bearing yellow bars on its bright-orange sides.
© L. Lee Grismer
In January 2010, a small, distinctive bird living in the rocky forests of the Annamite mountain range in Laos and Vietnam was described for the first time. it is similar to other warblers in this area of Southeast Asia, except for its distinct vocalizations and slight morphological differences. The tiny bird is greenish-olive with a yellow breast and striped crown. It has a loud and unique call, which is what first alerted the researchers that the bird may be new to science.
© Ulf Johansson / Swedish Museum of Natural History