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New species discovered in the Greater Mekong

New species discovered in the Greater Mekong

A new species of Popa langur in Myanmar

A mountain-horned dragon. A drought-resistant, bamboo. A monkey with a strong white ring around its eyes and a fragrant ginger-like flower, which can be used to make chili sauce.

These are just a few of the 224 new species that were identified in Wednesday’s report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an international conservation organization urging world leaders and governments to protect rapidly disappearing habitats.

The authors compiled the findings of hundreds of scientists who studied wildlife in Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong region, which includes Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar as well as Thailand, Thailand, Vietnam, and Thailand.

A new species of Popa langur in Myanmar

This new species is thought to have less than 250 members

They described the findings as a stark reminder of the dangers humanity faces if it continues to degrade the natural environment.

K Yoganand (a wildlife ecologist working with the WWF to combat wildlife crime in Greater Mekong) said, “Our responses are very weak. “We should treat it like a crisis.”

There are many extinctions in the future

Wildlife is dying faster across the globe. The most comprehensive study ever done on Earth’s life history found that humans are threatening more species with extinction than ever before. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a United Nations-backed organization that authored the report estimated that approximately one million species face extinction within a few decades.

Scientists trying to determine how fast species are dying face another problem: they don’t know how many actually exist.

Yoganand stated that many species are disappearing before they are even documented. It is definitely a race against the clock.

Conservationists setting camera traps in Myanmar

Conservationists are racing for species protection before they are extinct

Scientists say they have discovered a species by publishing a peer-reviewed paper describing its characteristics. Some species were known to Indigenous groups, or through media reports. The WWF study does NOT include smaller lifeforms such as insects, algae, and fungi. 

The authors noted that the report includes 224 new species that were discovered in 2020. The new additions include 155 plant species, 35 reptiles and 17 amphibians, as well as 16 fish. One mammal remains: a new Popa Langur monkey, which is named after the extinct volcano that is located in Myanmar.

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According to the report, genetic analysis of 100-year-old specimens in a British Museum provided the first evidence of its existence. These specimens matched up with recently collected bones from central Myanmar. It has bright white marks around its eyes and whiskers that face inwards. There are only 250 members of the species. 

The Greater Mekong also hosts more well-known species, such as the Asian elephant and tiger, which are fighting for survival. The region’s ecosystems have changed drastically over the last few decades as farms have expanded over forests and wetlands, extractive industries have degraded habitats, and dams have sprung up along the Mekong River, which provides fresh water to more than 60 million people. 

Construction site of a hydropower dam in Laos

Mega-construction projects have caused chaos in ecosystems throughout the Mekong River Basin.

Sustainable development

Five key ways that humans have endangered species are highlighted in the IPBES assessment: directly exploiting them, changing their habitats, warming the planet, polluting it, and introducing invasive species.

This loss of wildlife coincides with rising living standards in middle income countries like the Greater Mekong. Since 1970, roughly half of the population lives in cities in these five countries.

The study also found that the economic incentives that have led to the destruction of nature in various sectors, such as fishing, forestry, and mining, are partly responsible for the threats to the environment. Yoganand said, “It’s certainly not like we need to stop development.” It is important to do it in a better way to minimize habitat loss, and minimize pollution.

Edited by Tamsin Walker

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