Ghost monkeys among 224 new species of the Mekong: WWF

BANGKOK – A monkey with ghostly white circles around its eyes is among 224 new species listed in the World Wildlife Fund’s latest update to the greater Mekong region.

The conservation group’s report, released Wednesday, highlights the need to protect the rich biodiversity and habitats in the region, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. .

The species on the list were found in 2020 but last year’s report was delayed. This monkey is called Popa’s langur, because it lives on the steep hillside of the extinct Popa volcano in Myanmar. It is the only new mammal. There are also dozens of newly identified reptiles, frogs and newts, fish and 155 species of plants, including the only known succulent bamboo, found in Laos.

The Mekong region is a biodiversity hotspot and home to tigers, Asian elephants, saola – an extremely rare animal also known as the Asian unicorn or spinning dragon – and thousands of other species. thousand other species.

Including this latest list, scientists have identified more than 3,000 new species in the area since 1997, WWF said.

The scientists used measurements and samples from museum collections to compare and identify key differences with the newly discovered plant and animal features, the report said. .

Thomas Ziegler, a curator at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Zoology, said that in presenting the report, studying such differences could help define the species’ range and threats to biodiversity. their existence.

However, identifying new species is complex and can sometimes only be determined by multiple methods, such as the call of the frog and the genetic data used to distinguish the Cardamom leaf frog. , is found high up in the Cardamom Mountains in a wildlife refuge.

Several species are found in many countries, including bright orange double slug snakes, which feed on slugs.

The Popa langur species was identified based on the genetic match of recently collected skeletons with specimens from the British Museum of Natural History collected more than a century ago, the report said. The two main distinguishing features are the wide white ring around the eyes and the forward-facing antennae.

WWF, in partnership with Fauna and Flora International, captured images of monkeys using photographic traps in 2018. FFI reported the finding late last year.

The report says that monkeys are a candidate to be listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, as only 200-250 are thought to have survived in the wild. However, in a few places.

Underscoring the urgency of this work, more than 38,000 of the 138,000 species the IUCN tracks are threatened with extinction.

A new type of begonia with red flowers and berry-like fruits has also been found in the highlands of Myanmar, where illegal logging and logging are increasingly becoming a serious threat in the country, which is in political turmoil after the military takeover. A year ago.

Despite human encroachment on rainforests and other wilderness areas, much of the Greater Mekong remains largely unexplored, and dozens of new species are found each year – one ray of hope because so many species have gone extinct.

Not all new species are found deep in the jungle. One of the new plants, the ginger plant, is known as the “bug” because its pungent odor is similar to the large beetle that Thais use to make a chili sauce eaten with rice, the report said.

It is found in northeastern Thailand, in a botanical shop.

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