By Peter McLaren-Kennedy •
Published: 26 Jan 2022 • 9:17
The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) latest report lists 224 new species that have been identified in the greater Mekong region over the last year, as scientists and naturalists work to record and protect flora and fauna in the area.
The report highlights the need to protect the rich biodiversity and habitats in the region, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.
Although only listed now, the species were identified in 2020 but the report was delayed for a variety of reasons.
Amongst the findings was the only new mammal, a monkey called the Popa langur named after the steep hillsides of the extinct Mt. Popa volcano in Myanmar where it lives. The monkey has ghostly white circles around its eyes making it quite distinct from other apes.
Included in the list are also dozens of newly identified reptiles, frogs and newts, fish and 155 plant species, including the only known succulent bamboo species, found in Laos.
The Mekong region is a biodiversity hotspot and home to tigers, Asian elephants; Saola, an extremely rare animal also called the Asian unicorn or Spindlehorn; and thousands of other species.
The addition of the latest finds means that scientists have identified more than 3,000 new species in the region since 1997 according to the WWF.
Scientists used measurements and samples from museum collections to compare and identify key differences with features of the newly discovered animals and plants, the report said.
Introducing the report Thomas Ziegler, a curator at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Zoology said studying such differences can help determine the range of species and threats to their survival.
Identifying new species is tricky, though, and sometimes can only be determined using a variety of methods, such as frog calls and genetic data used to distinguish the Cardamom leaf little frog, found high up in the Cardamom mountains in a wildlife refuge.
Some species are found in more than one country, including the bright orange twin slug snake, which consumes other slugs.
The Popa langur was identified based on genetic matching of recently gathered bones with specimens from Britain’s Natural History Museum collected more than a century ago. Two main distinguishing characteristics were the broad white rings around its eyes and its front-pointing whiskers.
The WWF, working with Fauna and Flora International, caught images of the monkeys using camera traps in 2018. FFI reported the discovery late last year.
The monkey is a candidate to be listed as a critically endangered species on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the report said, since only 200-250 are thought to survive in the wild, in a handful of places.
The two organisations have underscored the urgency of such work, with more than 38,000 of the 138,000 species threatened with extinction.
A new type of begonia with reddish flowers and a berry-like fruit also was found in the uplands of Myanmar, where illegal mining and logging have become an increasingly dire threat in the country, which is in the midst of political turmoil following a military takeover a year ago.
Despite human encroachments on tropical forests and other wild zones, much of the Greater Mekong is still little explored and each year dozens of new species are found,a glimmer of hope as so many species go extinct.
Not all new species are found deep in jungles. One of the new plant species is a ginger plant called “stink bug” for its pungent odour similar to big beetles Thais use to make a kind of chili dipping paste served with rice, the report said.
It was found in north eastern Thailand, in a plant shop.
The WWF and its partners will continue to list more species as more research is carried out in relatively unexplored areas like the Mekong.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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