Thailand and neighbors home to 163 newly discovered species


Photo courtesy of PORRAWEE POMCHOTE

New species of bananas, lizards, flowers and other flora and fauna, totaling 163 in all, were among the treasure trove of biodiversity in Thailand and the countries of the Mekong River sub-region documented and unveiled last week by the World Wide Fund for Nature, underscoring the beauty and value of the region’s natural resources – and the need to protect and preserve them in the face of development.

The WWF released its findings in a report titled, Species Oddity, which documents the work of hundreds of scientists who discovered nine amphibians, 11 fish, 14 reptiles, 126 plants and three mammals in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. A total of 32 new species were discovered in Thailand. The four countries are joined together by the Mekong River, which courses down from the Himalayas through Southern China to the Vietnamese delta and eventually to the South China Sea.

“The Greater Mekong region is a magnet for the world’s conservation scientists because of the incredible diversity of species that continue to be discovered here,” said Jimmy Borah, Wildlife Program Manager for WWF-Greater Mekong. “These scientists, the unsung heroes of conservation, know they are racing against time to ensure that these newly discovered species are protected.”

The report title played on the discovery of a snake in northern Laos with a rainbow pattern on its head that reminded researchers of the David Bowie character Ziggy Stardust. One of Bowie’s first hit records was Space Oddity. But that was not the only new species discovered that had a pop culture link. “A newt discovered in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, Tylototriton anguliceps, has stunning red and black markings that resemble a Klingon from the movie Star Trek,” the WWF said.

As with many of the species, however, it is under threat from changes taking place in the region. The newt’s porous skin makes it especially sensitive to pesticides, the main danger along with deforestation of its habitat.

“A rare banana species discovered in Northern Thailand, Musa nanensis, is already considered critically endangered due to increasing deforestation and the fact that only a handful of individual plants have been seen. However, the recent discovery of another small population has given researchers hope for the species,” the WWF said.

To preserve these and other species, “it’s crucial that we improve enforcement against poaching and close illegal wildlife markets as well as the tiger and bear farms that openly flaunt wildlife laws,” the organization said.

The WWF has launched what it calls an ambitious project to disrupt the illegal wildlife trade by shutting down large wildlife markets in the Greater Mekong region.

“Working with partners and across borders, WWF will attempt to significantly reduce illegal trade in key threatened species such as elephants, tigers and rhinos by promoting species protection legislation, supporting effective transboundary cooperation and improving law enforcement effectiveness at key border crossings,” the organization said.

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