New Mekong discoveries highlight need for urgent action

Posted: 6 October 2010

 A seven-metre tall carnivorous plant, a fish with vampire fangs, and a frog that sounds like a cricket are among 145 new species described last year in the Greater Mekong.

They reaffirm the region as a one of the most significant biological hotspots on the planet ahead of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan.

Dawna-Tenasserim mountains
The Dawna-Tenasserim mountains are on the Thai-Myanmar border. Credit Supol Jitvijak/WWF

New Blood: Greater Mekong new species discoveries 2009, reveals an average of three new species recorded by science each week including Asia’s only bald songbird the Bare-faced bulbul and the uniquely adapted Sucker-fish, which uses its body to sucker onto rocks in fast flowing waters to move upstream.

“This rate of discovery is simply staggering in modern times,” said Stuart Chapman, Conservation Director of WWF Greater Mekong. “Each year, the new species count keeps going up, and with it, so too does the responsibility to ensure this region’s unique biodiversity is conserved,” he said.

The report says while these discoveries highlight the Greater Mekong’s immense biodiversity it also pinpoints the fragility of this region’s diverse habitats and species. The likely local extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam is one tragic indicator of the decline of biodiversity in recent times.

Other new species standouts include five new mammal species, two bats and three shrews, a poisonous pit viper and an entirely new genus of fang-less snake.

Fangless snake
Fangless snake (coluberoelaps nguyenvansangi). Credit: Nikolai Orlov/WWF

 How these new species were discovered in this region that includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southern province of Yunnan in China is as bizarre as some of their traits.

“We like to think of new species appearing before our eyes after a long day of tramping through the forest, but it very rarely happens this way,” admitted Darrin Lunde from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, after discovering a new shrew species in a museum drawer at the British Natural History Museum in London.

The report highlights the opportunity for governments of the Greater Mekong to use financing through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the global financing mechanism for the CBD, to leverage large-scale resources to conserve species, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems across the region.

“Biodiversity is not evenly distributed around the globe. These new species are a timely reminder of the extraordinary biodiversity in the Greater Mekong,” said Mr Chapman. “Therefore a greater allocation of funds is needed to ensure these valuable ecosystems are conserved.”

One idea that will be promoted by WWF at the upcoming Convention meeting is the need for cash from the Global Environment Fund for a trans-boundary programme in the Greater Mekong that recognizes the role of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.