Monday, January 7, 2013

Discoveries in the Greater Mekong

It’s always a pleasure to hear about the discovery of new species.  It’s a bit of a counterbalance to the tragedy of losing so many animals each year, and it’s a reminder of how much of the world remains unexplored.

A recent report from the ongoing work in the Greater Mekong region of southeast Asia has yielded a plethora of new species. The report, titled “Extra Terrestrial” was issued by the WWF.  It details a few of the new animals found by scientist working in the region.

Among the new creatures found, a small, demonic faced bat and a tree frog that sings like a bird are some of the most interesting.

The Quang’s tree frog was discovered during the study in the high altitude forest of Northern Vietnam.  The frog has a complex call that sounds more like a bird than a frog.  The male of the species attracts females with a song composed of whistles, chirps and clicks.  The order of sounds is never the same, causing each song to have a new and unique sound.

The tube-nosed bat, dubbed “Beelzebub’s bat” was also discovered in Vietnam.  The Greater Mekong is the only place this bat has been found.  It lives in and depends on, the tropical forests for its survival.  The Mekong region has lost thirty percent of its forest in the last four decades, putting this animal, and many others at risk.

This is the cold reality of such discoveries.  While the news of so many new species is exciting, there is also cause for concern.  Nick Cox, Manager of the WWF-Greater Mekong’s Species Program reports;

“Only by investing in nature conservation, especially protected areas, and developing greener economies, will we see these new species protected and keep alive the hope of finding other intriguing species in years to come.”

The animals in this region face many threats including loss of habitat, illegal hunting and the exotic pet trade.  Poaching is a serious problem in these countries and Cox says that the WWF has helped launch a global campaign to increase law enforcement and help reduce the demand for endangered species products.

It’s intriguing that so many new species are being discovered in a region known for sightings of a bigfoot like creature.  Known to the people of the area as the “Người rừng” and “Batutut” these forest people have long been a part of the region’s lore.  United States soldiers also reported these creatures during the Vietnam war.  It’s possible that more details will emerge about the forest people as work in the region continues.

The Greater Mekong spans Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Yunnan, the southwestern province of China.  Since 1997, over 1700 new species have been discovered in the region.  The 2011 study identified 126 new plants and animals including 5 mammals, 5 amphibians, 13 fish, 21 reptiles and 82 plants.  Extra Terrestrial only spotlights 10 of these new species so there’s much more to come.  The report can be found at the WWF site:

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