By Patrick Barnham
Cover pic – Calotes goetzi The Cambodian blue-crested agma, an aggressive lizard that changes color as a defensive mechanism © Henrik Bringsoe
A colour-changing lizard, a thick-thumbed bat, a poisonous snake named after a Chinese mythological goddess, an orchid that looks like a muppet and a tree frog with skin that resembles thick moss are five of the 380 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia in 2021 and 2022, according to a new report by WWF.
A report published on 22 May 2023 documents the work of hundreds of scientists from universities, conservation organisations and research institutes around the world who made the discoveries in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
This brings the total number of vascular plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals described in the Greater Mekong region since 1997 to 3,390.
With many of the species already under threat of extinction from human activities, WWF is calling on governments in the region to increase protection for these rare, amazing creatures and their habitats.
Mark Wright, WWF-UK’s director of science, said: “These new findings remind us of the extraordinary diversity and inventiveness of nature which can provoke a childish wonder and delight in us all.
“Sadly, it is also a timely reminder of the extreme jeopardy that so many of these species and habitats face, and what we risk losing if urgent and committed action is not taken.
“We urgently need governments to recognise the value of nature and commit to halting and reversing its destruction by 2030.”
K Yoganand, WWF-Greater Mekong regional wildlife lead, said: “These remarkable species may be new to science but they have survived and evolved in the Greater Mekong region for millions of years, reminding us humans that they were there a very long time before our species moved into this region.
“We have an obligation to do everything to stop their extinction and protect their habitats and help their recovery.”
Globally species are under intense pressure from deforestation, habitat degradation, road development, loss of streams and rivers, pollution, diseases spread by human activities, competition from invasive species, and the devastating impacts of illegal wildlife trade. Sadly, many species go extinct before they are even discovered.
In the UK, nature is under threat like never before. In the last 50 years, 38 million birds have vanished from UK skies, 97% of our wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, and a quarter of all our mammals are at risk of extinction.
The UK is in the bottom 10% of countries globally for protecting nature and has an average of only 53% of its biodiversity left.
The nature crisis and climate change are two sides of the same coin, so protecting nature is key to stopping the destruction of our planet and our way of life.