Mekong abundant with new species – all under threat

December 14, 2011
Gumprecht's Green Pitviper

Hot on the heels of news to postpone the decision on the Xayaburi dam, the WWF says scientists have been discovering a new species in the Greater Mekong area every two days.

More than 200 new species were discovered last year but the WWF warns that many are in danger, with the problem only getting worse as development of the Mekong river destroys and pollutes habitat. The WWF argue it is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, including tigers, Asian elephants, Mekong dolphins and Mekong giant catfish.

The study found over 100 plants, 25 fish, 28 reptiles and seven amphibians in the Greater Mekong which includes Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and the Yunnan province of China. The area has long been given the accolade of being one of the world's most bio-diverse areas.

“This is a region of extraordinary richness in terms of biodiversity but also one that is extremely fragile,” Sarah Bladen, communications director for WWF Greater Mekong, told the press. “It’s losing biodiversity at a tragic rate.”

Some of the more peculiar finds are a lizard that reproduces via cloning without the need for males. It was only discovered after a scientist spotted it on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant. Others are a fish that resembles a gherkin and five species of carnivorous pitcher plant, which trap and digest animals as large as rats and birds.

There can be little doubt that the discovery of the species comes as humanity encroaches further into all areas of the Mekong habitat. But that proximity is also threatening the same species.

Since 1997, over 1500 new species have been described by science in the jungles, rivers and even urban areas of the Greater Mekong.