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Over 300 New Species Discovered in 'Mysterious' Mekong; WWF Says

Jun 05, 2014 04:39 AM EDT
flying frog (one time use)
New giant flying frog is described in a report by The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF)
(Photo : The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) )

Over 300 new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong Region in 2012-2013. The list of weird creatures found in the area includes a skydiving gecko, fish with genitals on its head and a flying squirrel.

The World Wildlife Fund released a new report titled Mysterious Mekong to mark this year's World Environment Day. A two year exploration of the region yielded some 367 species, including 290 plants, 24 fish and 21 amphibians. The report shows that Mekong region is still under-explored.

What's more is that several new species were found not in deep forests, but in markets of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

A species of flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis), for example, was found in a bush meat market in Laos. Laotian giant flying squirrel, with its red and white fur, is the only known genus of flying squirrels in Southeast Asia. Similarly, the Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk) was found in Phnom Penh in 2009 during routine tests for avian flu.

"The species discoveries affirm the Greater Mekong as one of the world's richest and most biodiverse regions," said Dr Thomas Gray, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong's Species Programme. "If we're to prevent these new species disappearing into extinction, and to keep alive the hope of finding other fascinating creatures in years to come, it's critical that governments invest in conservation and green growth strategies."

Among other interesting creatures on the list is the Helen's Flying Frog (Rhacophorus helenae). It was discovered less than 100 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The frog uses large webbed hand and feet to glide between treetops. Biologists managed to spot it in a small patch of forest surrounded by agricultural land, showing that the frogs might be losing their habitat due to human encroachment.

"Lowland tropical forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world due to human pressures, such as logging and degradation," said Dr. Gray in a news release. "While Helen's Tree Frog has only just been discovered, this species, like many others, is already under threat in its fast shrinking habitat."

Mekong- A River of Contentions                   

The WWF report comes at a time when Laos is facing the ire of its neighbors- Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia- over a dam that it plans to build on the Mekong River.

Laos, a small landlocked country in Southeast Asia- believes that the new Don Sahong dam will help it harvest hydropower. The Mekong River Nations are meeting in Thailand June 26-27 to discuss Laos's plans of building the dam. Cambodia and Vietnam want to delay this project.

"Laos remains committed to exporting hydropower and becoming the battery of Southeast Asia," said Viraphonh Viravong, the country's vice minister of energy and mines, according to Bloomberg. "Hydropower is a natural choice for Laos."

According to Martin Stuart-Fox, an emeritus professor of history at Australia's University of Queensland, China is Laos' major strategic partner over the Mekong dam project. China has already built dams further upstream on the Mekong, Bloomberg reported.

WF had earlier said that building dams over the Mekong River will not only affect biodiversity of the region, but also affect fisheries. Around 60 million people could lose an important source of protein in their diets due to dams.

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