Where the wild things are: 115 new animal species discovered in Vietnam, Mekong neighbors

By Vi Vu   December 19, 2017 | 01:14 am PT
Where the wild things are: 115 new animal species discovered in Vietnam, Mekong neighbors
A member of the Vietnamese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilus vietnamensis), a new species found in northern Vietnam. Photo courtesy of WWF
New lizard and frog species are heavily threatened by human agriculture and industrial activities.

A crocodile lizard that has been turned into a cartoon character to teach children the importance of protecting nature and a colored frog that lives in shallow ponds in karst limestone forests were among the new species discovered in Vietnam in 2016.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released a report on Tuesday detailing the 115 new species that were found in the Greater Mekong region in 2016, including 65 from Vietnam.

The Vietnamese crocodile lizard and frog were among the prominent findings.

The lizard, named Shinisaurus crocodilurus vietnamensis, is a medium-sized lizard that lives in remote freshwater and evergreen forests of south China and northern Vietnam. It was discovered in Vietnam in 2003 by Dr Thomas Ziegler and his research team, and in 2016 they announced that the Vietnamese population is a separate subspecies.

The WWF report said the lizard is heavily threatened by habitat decline, coal mining and collection for the pet trade, and fewer than 200 individuals are estimated to remain in Vietnam. “This is terrifyingly low,” said Ziegler, as cited in a statement.

His research team is developing a breeding program at a biodiversity station in Hanoi and has worked with an artist to develop a comic strip featuring “Shini” the lizard to explain to school children the importance of the lizards and the need to protect them.

The vibrantly colored frog Odorrana mutschmanni was discovered among the karst limestone forest of Ha Lang District, Cao Bang Province on Vietnam’s border with China.

Dr Truong Nguyen, whose team found the frog, said the discovery “highlights the conservation value of the karst limestone forest.” He said his team had discovered five new species from the Cao Bang’s karst forest since 2012.

But the area is under threat from quarrying, agriculture and illegal timber logging, while the species is extremely vulnerable to any kind of environmental degradation, he said.

He said the province should establish a protected zone around the remaining karst forests for the sake of biodiversity.

Some discoveries were not as notable because the animals are not under threat.


A new mole species named Euroscaptor orlovi discovered in northern Vietnam. Photo courtesy of WWF

Two mole species found in northern Vietnam have managed to maintain stable populations and escape the threat of poaching by digging underground and staying out of sight from human predators. A research team led by Dr Alexei Abramov found that the network of streams and rivers in northern Vietnam created geographic separation that has led to the divergence of unique mammal species in the area.

“This new data is very important for understanding the history and formation of Indochinese mammal fauna,” said Abramov.

Scientists also found seven new species in Cambodia, 15 in Laos, five in Myanmar and 33 in Thailand.

A snail-eating turtle species was discovered in a food market in Thailand, while new horseshoe bats have been likened to a character from Star Wars.

Other discoveries include a loach with striking black and brown stripes on its elongated body from Cambodia, and several gecko species in Laos.

The WWF said new discoveries serve as an amazing reminder of all the creatures that coexist with the 237 million people who call the region home.

Many of these species are under direct threat from human activity, it said.

The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 shows that people are overpowering the planet, as the global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles could have declined by two thirds in just 50 years by 2020.

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