New butterflies, snakes and orchids discovered

Posted: 27 September 2007

Eleven new species of animals and plants have been discovered in a remote area of central Vietnam known as the Green Corridor. They include two butterflies, a snake, five orchids and three other plants.

Rainforest in the Green Corridor, Annamite Mountain Range, Vietnam
Rainforest in the Green Corridor, Annamite Mountain Range, Vietnam
Rainforest in the Green Corridor, Annamite Mountain Range, Vietnam. © Leonid Averyanov / WWF Greater Mekong
The species were found by scientists in the Thua Thien Hue Province and all are exclusive to tropical forests in Vietnam's Annamite Mountain Range. Ten other plant species, including four orchids, are still under examination but also appear to be new species.

The Green Corridor is one of the last remaining lowland wet evergreen forests, and supports significant populations of threatened species. The area also includes some of the longest remaining stretches of lowland river with intact forest habitat in Vietnam, which feed into the Perfume River.

"You only discover so many new species in very special places, and the Green Corridor is one of them," said Chris Dickinson, WWF's Chief Technical Adviser in the area. "Several large mammal species were discovered in the 1990s in the same forests, which means that these latest discoveries could be just the tip of the iceberg."

New snake species, the white-lipped keelback
New snake species, the white-lipped keelback
New snake species, the white-lipped keelback, discovered in Vietnam. © Raoul Bain / WWF Greater Mekong
The new snake species called the white-lipped keelback tends to live by streams where it catches frogs and other small animals. It can reach about 80 centimetres in length and has a beautiful yellow-white stripe that sweeps along its head with red dots covering its body.

Wild cattle

The butterfly species are among eight to have been discovered in the province since 1996. One is a skipper - a butterfly with quick, darting flight habits - from the genus Zela, the other is a new genus in the subfamily of Satyrinae.

Three of the new orchid species, including the Gastrodia theana and Lecanorchis vietnamica, have a very rare characteristic in that they are entirely leafless. They contain no chlorophyll and live on decaying matter, like many fungal species.

The other new plants include the Aspidistra nicolai which produces an almost black flower and a new species of arum, the Cryptocoryne vietnamica, which has beautiful yellow flowers surrounded by funnel-shaped leaves.

Recent surveys have shown that the Green Corridor is home to many threatened species including 15 reptiles and amphibians and six bird species as well as the greatest number of one of the world's most endangered primates, the white-cheeked crested gibbon. The area is also believed to be the best location in Vietnam to conserve the Saola, a unique type of wild cattle only discovered by scientists in 1992.

<em>Anoectochilus annamenis</em>, a new orchid species found in Vietnam
Anoectochilus annamenis, a new orchid species found in Vietnam
Anoectochilus annamensis, a new orchid species found in Vietnam. © Leonid Averyanov / WWF Greater Mekong
WWF is concerned that endangered species in this area are at risk from illegal logging, hunting, unsustainable extraction of natural resources and conflicting development interests. However, the Thua Thien Hue Province authorities - in particular the Forest Protection Department - have made a commitment to conserve and sustainably manage these valuable forests.

"The area is extremely important for conservation and the province wants to protect the forests and their environmental services, as well as contribute to sustainable development," said Hoang Ngoc Khanh, Director of Thua Thien Hue Provincial Forest Protection Department.

WWF believes the forests in the Annamites also help to preserve critical environmental services such as water supplies for thousand of people who depend on the region's rivers and non-timber forest resources for local ethnic minority groups who earn more than half of their income from these products.

The 'Green Corridor' project is a four-year initiative that started in June 2004, implemented by the WWF Greater Mekong Programme and Thua Thien Hue Provincial Forest Protection Department. More details about the species and other biodiversity discoveries can be found at www.huegreencorridor.org