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224 species discovered in Mekong region

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-27 09:36

Clockwise from top left: The Mount Ky Quan San Horned Frog, the Popa langur, the twin slug snake and the Doi Phu Kha newt are among the 224 new species listed in the World Wildlife Fund's latest update on the Mekong region. WORLD WILDLIFE FOUNDATION/REUTERS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

BANGKOK-A devil-horned newt, drought-resilient bamboo and a monkey named after a volcano were among 224 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region in 2020 despite the "intense threat" of habitat loss, said a conservation group on Wednesday.

The discoveries listed in a report by the World Wildlife Fund include a new rock gecko found in Thailand, a mulberry tree species in Vietnam, and a big-headed frog in Vietnam and Cambodia that is already threatened by deforestation.

The species listed were found in 2020, but last year's report was delayed.

The newly discovered monkey species, called the Popa langur, lives on the steep hillsides of the dormant Mount Popa volcano in Myanmar and was the only new mammal species. There 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 224 discoveries highlighted the rich biodiversity of the Mekong region, which encompasses Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and is a testament to the resilience of nature surviving in fragmented and degraded natural habitats, said the WWF.

"These species are extraordinary, beautiful products of millions of years of evolution, but are under intense threat, with many species going extinct even before they are described," said K. Yoganand, WWF-Greater Mekong's regional lead for wildlife and wildlife crime.

While the region is home to some of the world's most endangered species, it is at risk of habitat destruction, diseases from human activities and the illegal wildlife trade.

A United Nations report last year said wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia was creeping back after a temporary disruption from coronavirus restrictions, which saw countries shut borders and tighten surveillance.

Biodiversity hot spot

The Mekong region is a biodiversity hot spot and home to tigers, Asian elephants, saola-an extremely rare animal also called the Asian unicorn or spindlehorn-and thousands of other species.

Including this latest list, scientists have identified more than 3,000 new species in the region since 1997.

Scientists used measurements and samples from museum collections to compare and identify key differences of features of the newly discovered animals and plants.

Studying such differences can help determine the range of species and threats to their survival, said Thomas Ziegler, a curator at the University of Cologne's Institute of Zoology, when introducing the report.

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-litter 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 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 are 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.

Agencies via Xinhua

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