The Greater Mekong region spanning Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southern province of Yunnan in China is a biodiversity hotspot teeming with wildlife. According to a new WWF report scientists discovered 126 new species in the region in 2011.
A new bat named after its devilish appearance, a subterranean blind fish, a ruby-eyed pit viper, and a frog that sings like a bird are some of the new species that have been identified by scientists in the Greater Mekong.
“While the 2011 discoveries affirms the Mekong as a region of astonishing biodiversity, many new species are already struggling to survive in shrinking habitats,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong’s Species Programme. “Only by investing in nature conservation, especially protected areas, and developing greener economies, will we see these new species protected and keep alive the hope of finding other intriguing species in years to come.”
The Beelzebub’s tube-nosed bat is one of the discovered species. It has a demonic appearance with a tube like nose and is only found in Vietnam. Like the other two tube nosed bats, its survival largely depends on the tropical forests and deforestation may put this bat at risk.
Another unique species discovered in Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc is a freshwater fish that can walk! The catfish species (Clarias gracilentus), can move across land using its pectoral fins to stay upright while it wiggles forward with snake-like movements says WWF.
Boraras naevus is another fish identified in southern Thailand which is just 2 cms long and named so because of the dark blotch on its golden body. (naevus means blemish in Latin) A cave dwelling fish discovered in a Mekong River tributary in Central Laos that runs 7km underground through limestone karst was found to be totally blind and immediately listed as vulnerable.
According to the world organization, Mekong river is home to at least 850 species of fish and Laos’ determination to construct the Xayaburi dam may threaten the biodiversity of the river. As the river also supports intensive inland fishery, the dam construction may risk the livelihoods of over 60 million people.
“The Mekong River supports levels of aquatic biodiversity second only to the Amazon River,” added Cox. “The Xayaburi dam would prove an impassable barrier for many fish species, signalling the demise for wildlife already known and as yet undiscovered.”
Apart from the fishes, the frogs discovered here are also extraordinary. Take the case of a tree frog discovered in the high-altitude forests of northern Vietnam. Instead of the usual croaks, the frog makes such complicated sounds that they come out as a bird song. Quang’s tree frog also does not repeat these tunes and has a new song to sing to the female frog each time. No two calls are the same, and each individual mixes clicks, whistles and chirps in a unique order.
Frogs in the genus Leptobrachium, show a remarkable variety of eye colouration. Leptobrachium leucops, discovered in 2011 in the wet evergreen and cloud forest in Southern Vietnam, is distinguished by its striking black and white eyes reports WWF.
Among the 21 reptiles discovered in 2011 are the ruby-eyed green pit viper (Trimeresurus rubeus) in forests near Ho Chi Minh City. It is also found along the low hills of southern Vietnam and through eastern Cambodia’s Langbian Plateau.
A short tailed pygmy python (Python kyaiktiyo) was found in the Kyaiktiyo Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar but it has not been seen again. Ecologists fear the 1.5 metre-long python is likely at risk from threats faced by other pythons, including habitat loss, and illegal hunting for meat, skins, and the exotic pet trade.
“Poaching for the illegal wildlife trade poses one of the greatest threats to the existence of many species across Southeast Asia,” added Cox. “To tackle this threat, WWF and TRAFFIC launched a global campaign this year to increase law enforcement, impose strict deterrents and reduce demand for endangered species products.”
Extra Terrestrial spotlights 10 species newly identified by science, among the 82 plants, 13 fish, 21 reptiles, 5 amphibians and 5 mammals all discovered in 2011 within the Greater Mekong region. Since 1997 an incredible 1710 new species have been described from this region.