163 new species discovered in Greater Mekong

Bangkok: A rainbow-headed snake and a lizard with dragon-like horns are two of the 163 new species discovered in 2015 in Southeast Asia’s Mekong region, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a new report on Monday.

This brings the total number of species discovered in this region since 1997 to 2,409, Efe news reported.

“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 WWF Wildlife Program Manager Jimmy Borah.

The new species discovered by scientists in remote parts of the region — comprising China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam — include nine amphibians, 11 fishes, 14 reptiles, 126 plants and three mammals.

The discoveries, published in the report, also include a red-flowered banana found in northern Thailand, an orange-eyed frog in Cambodia and Vietnam, and a pale blue-skinned gecko in Laos.

The Greater Mekong region, located along the Mekong river from the Tibetan plateau through Southeast Asia, is home to one of the world’s largest biodiversities, under threat from development projects and illegal hunting.

In another report earlier this year, the WWF had said that by 2020, the number of fishes, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles would have dropped two-thirds from what it was 50 years earlier.

According to WWF, one of the main threats to biodiversity in the Mekong region is the construction of dams on the river, including the Don Sahong dam in Laos, which endangers the iconic Irrawaddy dolphin found in several parts of the river in Cambodia.

Other risks include mining projects in northeastern Cambodia, intense deforestation and illegal hunting in the Annamese mountains between Laos and Vietnam, and the construction of highways between Myanmar and Thailand.