A crocodile lizard, a snail-eating turtle and a horseshoe bat are among the 115 new species discovered by scientists in Southeast Asia’s Mekong River region in 2016, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced.
Scientists from several research institutes discovered the new species, including 11 amphibians, two fish, 11 reptiles, 88 plants and three mammals in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
They include an extremely rare crocodile lizard, two species of mole living among a network of streams and rivers, and a vibrantly coloured frog which is one of five new species discovered in the same forest in northern Vietnam.
These bring the total number of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians discovered in the region between 1997 and 2016 to 2,524.
“More than two new species a week and 2,500 in the past 20 years speaks to how incredibly important the Greater Mekong is to global biodiversity,” said Stuart Chapman, WWF Greater Mekong Regional Representative, in a statement.
“While the threats to the region are many, these discoveries give us hope that species from the tiger to the turtle will survive.”
The snail-eating turtle was not discovered in a river or forest but in a market in north-east Thailand, having been caught in a nearby canal by shopkeepers.
The mountain horseshoe bat was found in the evergreen forests of Laos and Thailand, and has a horseshoe-shaped facial structure, the WWF said.
Many of the new finds are already threatened by habitat destruction, the creation of new infrastructure, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, the conservation charity warned.
Among the threats, Chapman pointed to coal mines and the construction of dams and roads that endanger “the survival of the natural landscapes”and result in illegal animal trafficking that could make species disappear before they are even discovered.
The organisation also highlighted the Golden Triangle, the area where the borders of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar meet, as a focus of illegal trading of protected species that decimates wildlife populations across the region.
“The species in the Greater Mekong deserve protection from unscrupulous collectors who are willing to pay thousands of dollars or more for the rarest, most unique and most endangered species.”
Among the new species documented in the report are:
- A mountain horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus monticolus ), found in the forests of mountainous Laos and Thailand. It took 10 years to determine it was a new species, with a horseshoe-shaped facial structure, known as a noseleaf.
- A Vietnamese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus vietnamensis), which lives in freshwater and forest habitats of south China and northern Vietnam. It is threatened by habitat destruction, coal-mining and collection as a pet As few as 200 could remain in Vietnam. A comic-strip character has been created to explain to children the importance of protecting it.
- A snail-eating turtle (Malayemys isan) was identified in a market in north-east Thailand. It is threatened by infrastructure, such as dikes and dams, and needs to be protected under Thai law, conservationists said.
- Two moles (Euroscaptor orlovi and Euroscaptor kuznetsovi) were discovered in a network of streams and rivers in northern Vietnam. It is thought they can maintain stable populations and escape poachers because they live underground in protected areas.
- A vibrantly coloured frog (Odorrana mutschmanni) is threatened by quarrying for cement and road construction. The frog’s karst forest home needs new protection, the WWF said.
- A loach (Schistura kampucheensis) fish from Cambodia with striking black and brown stripes on its elongated body.
- A frog and four plant species from Myanmar, which is opening up to scientific exploration with expectations it could be home to hundreds of undiscovered species.