Scientists discover 163 new species in Greater Mekong region: WWF

A rainbow-headed snake and a dragon-like lizard are among 163 new species that scientists recently discovered in the Greater Mekong region, says conservation group WWF.

VIETNAM (FILE – JUNE 2010) (JODI ROWLEY) – A rainbow-headed snake and a dragon-like lizard are among 163 new species that scientists recently discovered in the Greater Mekong region, conservation group WWF said on Monday (December 19), adding rapid development in the area, from dams to mines, was threatening wildlife survival.

The discoveries, published in a report on Monday, include a gecko in Laos with pale blue skin and a rare banana species discovered in northern Thailand that is critically endangered because of increasing deforestation.

World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Southeast Asian conservation director, Nicolas J. Cox, said the discoveries over the recent years indicates that the region is “special”.

Yet, despite the excitement of the new discoveries, Cox said the scientists and conservationists will have to work harder.

“So on the one hand, you know, this is incredibly exciting that we’re finding these new species but it also encourage us to work even harder to make sure that when we do find new species, that not only do we protect the habitat where they live which has in turn benefit for us as the people, but also really work hard to improve the enforcement to ensure that they’re not lost to the trade and to really work on changing people’s attitudes to consuming wild animals in a way that is not sustainable at all,” he added.

The Greater Mekong is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, but also a global hub for illegal wildlife trade, WWF said.

Rare or endangered animal parts, including tiger bones and rhino horns, are seen as collector’s items by some and are often used in traditional medicine.

In June, Thai wildlife authorities raided the Tiger Temple west of Bangkok, a popular tourist attraction. There they discovered scores of dead tiger cubs, frozen tiger carcasses, skins and dead cubs in jars, as well as other protected species.

It remains unclear why the Tiger Temple was storing dead tiger cubs and parts, although officials have said they might have been used for traditional Chinese medicine.

A 2016 report by WWF found that by 2020 global populations of fish, birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles could have declined by two-thirds in just 50 years.

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