Hundreds of newly discovered species ‘threatened’ in Mekong region
By Zeus Legaspi
Hundreds of newly-documented species discovered in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia are under threat of extinction from human activities, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) cautioned in a report released on Monday.
“The biodiversity of the Greater Mekong region is facing tremendous pressures from economic development and human population growth, which drive deforestation, pollution, and overexploitation of natural resources, compounded by the effects of climate change,” said Dr. Truong Q. Nguyen, Vice Director of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources in the Viet Nam Academy of Science and Technology.
In the report, Dr. Nguyen appealed for immediate action to help scientists discover and preserve wildlife in the region.
“To reverse the rapid biodiversity loss in the region, more concerted, science-based, and urgent efforts need to be made…and conservation measures need more attention from governments, NGOs, and the public,” he said.
The report documented species that were discovered in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, bringing the total number of vascular plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals described in the region since 1997 to 3,389.
The scientists discovered 290 plants, 19 fishes, 24 amphibians, 46 reptiles, and one mammal in the region during a two-year period from 2021 to 2022, for a total of 380 newly-documented species.
“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 humans that they were there a very long time before our species moved into this region,” said K. Yoganand, WWF’s Greater Mekong regional wildlife lead.
“We have an obligation to do everything to stop their extinction and protect their habitats, and help their recovery,” he added.
The Greater Mekong region is part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot and is home to endangered species including the tiger, the Asian elephant, and the giant freshwater stingray, among others.
Scientists working with the WWF-Greater Mekong found “rare and iconic” creatures such as the Cambodian blue-crested agama, an aggressive lizard found near an Angkor-era archeological site. The lizard changes color as a defensive mechanism.
The scientists also found a bent-toed gecko in Thailand which they named after a mythical tree nymph – Rukha Deva – who lives in trees and protects the forests. It aggressively opens its mouth and waves its tail side-to-side when threatened.
A new species of shrub was also found – the Cleyera bokorensis – which is currently being threatened by a Cambodian casino, dam, and residential development.
Some of the newly discovered plants, including orchids and other flowering plants, have been facing threats such as trafficking and overharvesting.
WWF’s report coincided with the celebration of the annual Laudato Si’ Week, on 21-28 May, with the theme, “Hope for the Earth. Hope for Humanity”.
The Pope’s encyclical focuses on care for the world, which Pope Francis refers to as “our common home”.
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