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New species discovered in the Greater Mekong
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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 white rings around its eyes. It also has a ginger-like flower that can make chili sauce.

These are just some of the 224 species newly documented by the World Wide Fund for Nature, an international conservation group that urges world leaders 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

It is believed that less than 250 members of this new species exist.

They described the discoveries to be a stark reminder about what humanity will lose if they continue to destroy the natural world.

K Yoganand, a wildlife ecologist fighting wildlife crime in the Greater Mekong, said that “our responses to that extinction crises are very weak and very slow.” “We must treat it as a crisis.”

There are many extinctions in the future

Wildlife is dying faster across the globe. In 2019, the largest ever comprehensive study of Earth’s biodiversity found that human actions are putting more species at risk of extinction than ever. The report was authored by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a United Nations-backed body. It estimated that around one million species are already at risk of extinction within the next 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 working hard to protect and identify species before they disappear.

Scientists say they have discovered a species by publishing a peer-reviewed paper describing its characteristics. In some cases, the species was already known to Indigenous groups and the public 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 are 155 plants, 35 reptiles (17 amphibians), 17 amphibians, and 16 fish. Only one mammal is represented: a new Popa langur species, named after the extinct volcano in Myanmar where it is located.

The Capparis macrantha plant

Capparis macrantha, a shrubby plant recently discovered on the mountainous border between Laos & Vietnam, is the Capparis macrantha.

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 is distinguished by bright white marks around its eyes and whiskers that face inwards. It is believed that less than 250 members of this species exist. 

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

The IPBES assessment identified five key ways in which humans have threatened species’ survival: altering habitats, directly exploiting organisms and heating the planet.

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 across 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’s just that it needs to be done in an improved way to minimize habitat destruction and minimize pollution.”

Edited By: Tamsin W. Walker

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