Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Discovery of new species born to die

Several high-flying creatures, including giant flying frogs and squirrels and a parachute gecko, are among the hundreds of exotic new species recently discovered in the greater Mekong region in Southeast Asia.

A new eyeless spider and a fish that mates head to head are also highlighted in a report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) on the extraordinary biodiversity in the forests surrounding the Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China, and is also home to about 325-million people.

The discovery of more than 300 new species of animals, fish and plants in the region in 2012-2013 comes as scientists revealed that human activities such as the destruction of habitats, hunting and the pollution of land and water have driven extinction rates to 1 000 times faster than the natural rate.

“Most species remain unknown to science and they likely face greater threats than the ones we do know,” said Professor Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University in North Carolina, United States, and who led the new study published in Science.

Without urgent action, he said, further rises in extinction rates are likely, heralding what many believe could become the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. The discoveries in the Mekong region illustrate how, even as many species are dying out, new animals can be revealed, even in heavily populated areas.

On sale
The new species of red-and-white-furred flying squirrel was discovered on sale in a bush meat market in Laos. In Cambodia, a new tailorbird warbler was found hiding in plain sight in the capital Phnom Penh, during routine checks for avian flu.

“The species discoveries affirm the Greater Mekong as one of the world’s richest and most biodiverse regions,” said Thomas Gray, the manager of the WWF-Greater Mekong’s species programme. “If we’re to prevent these new species disappearing into extinction, and to keep alive the hope of finding other fascinating creatures in years to come, it’s critical that governments invest in conservation,” he said.

Among the 21 new amphibian species discovered is Helen’s flying frog, discovered less than 100km from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

The huge green frog managed to evade biologists until recently by using its large, webbed hands and feet to glide between treetops and only coming down to breed in rain pools. It was found in a patch of forest surrounded by farmland, highlighting the urgent need for conservation.

“Lowland tropical forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world due to human pressures, such as logging and degradation,” Gray said. “While Helen’s tree frog has only just been discovered, this species, like many others, is already under threat in its fast-shrinking habitat.”

Also discovered in Vietnam was a tiny new fish with a very complex anatomy, which includes having its sex organs just behind its mouth. As as a result, it mates head to head.

The new species of parachute gecko was discovered in the evergreen forest in western Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park, which also hosts one of the world’s biggest tiger populations. The new spider, which has evolved to have no eyes as a result of living permanently without daylight in caves, was found in Laos.

Although nature reserves are critical, Pimm said many threatened animals lived outside them and called for citizen scientists to help conservationists to track the species. “Most species live outside protected areas, so understanding how their environments are changing is a vital task,” Pimm said. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

Update: Standard Bank rejects climate proposal

Climate considerations are pressing Standard Bank shareholders to push for the recusal of those with fossil fuel ties.

More top stories

Wildlife farming vs Creecy’s panel

The departments of environment and agriculture legislation are at odds over modifying the genes of wild animals

Drugs and alcohol abuse rage in crime stats

Substance abuse has emerged as a reason for the spike in crimes during the first quarter of 2021.

UPDATE: Magashule tries to tip the scales on Ramaphosa in...

The suspended secretary general argues that the rules the party relied on to sideline him are invalid but those informing his attempt to suspend the president are lawful

Modack charged with Kinnear murder

Nafiz Modack is the second person to be charged with killing Charl Kinnear and five others are accused of conspiracy to commit murder, among 61 other charges
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×