Species, threats grow in Mekong region: WWF

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This photo, provided by the WWF, shows a self-cloning lizard (Leiolepis ngovantrii), which reproduces via cloning without the need for males. Scientists identify a new species every two days in the Greater Mekong region, the WWF said on December 12, in a report detailing 2010's more unusual finds such as a leaf warbler and the self-cloning lizard.

Scientists identify a new species every two days in the Greater Mekong region, the WWF said Monday, in a report detailing 2010's more unusual finds such as a leaf warbler and a self-cloning lizard.

But the conservation group warned some species could disappear before they are ever recorded because of man-made pressures in the Southeast Asian area, described in the report as "one of the last frontiers" for new discoveries.

More than 200 species were newly recorded last year in the Greater Mekong, which includes Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan.

Some, such as the snub-nosed monkey found in Myanmar's remote Kachin state, were already known to local communities but never previously identified by the scientific community.

A species of all-female lizard, which reproduces via cloning without the need for males, was spotted by a scientist by chance on the menu in a Vietnamese restaurant.

Sarah Bladen, spokeswoman for WWF Greater Mekong, based in Hanoi, said despite the number of new species found, the region faced "an extinction crisis".

"Unless these countries start to see biodiversity as something to be valued and invested in, we risk losing wild places and wild species at an extraordinary rate," she told AFP.

The list, dominated by plants, included 28 reptiles and seven amphibians, such as a vibrantly-spotted newt species and a psychedelic gecko.

The only new bird found last year was the tiny limestone leaf warbler, so-called because it breeds in limestone karsts in Laos and has a loud, unique call -- the sign that alerted researchers to a potential new find.

"While these discoveries highlight the unique biodiversity of the Greater Mekong they also reveal the fragility of this region's diverse species and habitats," the WWF report said.

It noted "urgent reminders" such as the dramatic 70 percent drop in wild tiger numbers in little over a decade and the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam in 2010.


This photo, provided by the WWF, shows a limestone leaf warbler (Phylloscopus Calciatilis), so-called because it breeds in limestone karsts in Laos and has a loud, unique call. Scientists identify a new species every two days in the Greater Mekong region, the WWF said on December 12, in a report detailing 2010's more unusual finds such as the leaf warbler and a self-cloning lizard.

"Rapid, unsustainable development and climate change impacts are profoundly affecting biodiversity and ecosystem services and consequently the millions of people who depend on them," it added.

The report comes days after Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos delayed a decision on a proposed hydropower dam on the Mekong river, which activists warn would seriously threaten several unique species in the waterway.

WWF called on the six leaders of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, meeting later this month in Myanmar, to prioritise biodiversity, warning that otherwise "the region's treasure trove of biodiversity will be lost".

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