|126 new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong in the past year. The total newly identified by scientists in 2011 includes 82 plants, 21 reptiles, 13 fish, 5 amphibians, and 5 mammals.
Adding to an already fantastic collection of creatures living in the Greater Mekong are new characters such as a pygmy python, a walking catfish, a subterranean blind fish, a ruby-eyed pit viper, a bat with a devilish appearance, and a frog that sings like a bird. These discoveries, compiled by WWF-Greater Mekong, further cement the region’s reputation as a final frontier for scientific exploration and new encounters.
The Greater Mekong (GM) region of Southeast Asia, through which the Mekong River flows, consists of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan in southern China. The region is home to some of the planet’s most charismatic and endangered wild species, including the Indochinese tiger, Asian elephant, Mekong dolphin, and Mekong giant catfish—and between 1997 and 2011 an incredible 1,710 new organisms were described by science in these landscapes.
While this year’s 126 new discoveries continue to showcase the region’s stunning biodiversity, they also reveal intricacy and fragility among Greater Mekong species and their habitats. The terrifying drop in the number of wild tigers—70 percent in just over a decade —and the recent local extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam in 2010 are urgent reminders that unique creatures are being lost at an alarming rate due to human pressures. The illegal trade in wildlife remains a major threat to many species and shows no signs of declining. As the region’s financial wealth increases, the culture of ownership, consumption, and gifting of wildlife products remains ever present. The global illegal wildlife trade is now estimated to be worth at least USD19 billion annually.
Rapid unsustainable development, including poorly planned infrastructure, uncontrolled and non-transparent extractive activities, and agricultural expansion, as well as the rampant wildlife trade, are profoundly degrading the health of ecosystems— and consequently millions of people who directly depend on natural resources. Warmer temperatures and more extreme floods, droughts, and storms as a result of climate change only exacerbate these pressures.
Today the Greater Mekong region forms part of one of the five most threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world. Thorough and consistent management of ecosystems across the Greater Mekong region will help nations adequately address complex, challenging, and regional-scale issues like habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable natural resource use, poaching, and climate change.