Twenty-six species in Burma are among 367 new species that were discovered by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2012-13, according to a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a non-governmental organization working on wildlife conservation globally.
Michelle Owen, conservation program manager at WWF-Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy, “I hope that this report inspires people in Myanmar to go into environmental science as a profession. Scientists and communities play a crucial role in discovering new species and there is a great opportunity across the country for more species to be found.”
Titled “Mysterious Mekong,” the WWF report was released on Thursday, World Environment Day, “highlighting creatures both bizarre and beautiful” in the Mekong region. Among the 26 species in Burma, there were 14 plants, seven fish, four amphibians and one reptile newly discovered in 2012-13.
“Of particular interest are a new species of dragonfish with striking and complex maze-like markings on each individual scale; a species of ginger plant found in western Myanmar’s Rakhine [Arakan] Yoma cloud forests above the Bay of Bengal; a catfish from a tributary of the mighty Irrawaddy River with a unique flame-shaped ‘suction cup’ on its throat; and a Tanintharyi stream toad with bumpy, chocolate-colored skin and long, slender limbs,” according to a press release accompanying the report.
Owen said the discoveries of these new species affirmed that the Greater Mekong was one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. The discovery of 26 species in relatively unexplored Burma was testament to the need to invest in conservation and the development of a green economy in the country, added Owen.
“Our biggest concern is ensuring that areas of high biodiversity are conserved and managed so that known and unknown species are protected,” Owen told The Irrawaddy. “The 26 new species discovered in Myanmar only begin to scratch the surface of what is possible, given that Myanmar’s ecosystems are so rich and varied.”
The conservation program manager highlighted southeastern Burma and the adjacent Kaeng Krachan National Park in Thailand as areas ripe for further new discoveries in future.
“Kaeng Krachan National Park and Tanintharyi National Park the forests across the border in Myanmar [in Tenasserim Division] are some of the least explored areas in Southeast Asia,” Owen said in the WWF report.
“They are the beating heart for species recovery in Thailand and Myanmar and Kaeng Krachan is home to one of the world’s most important tiger populations,” added Owen.
The WWF report lists 290 plants, 24 fish, 21 amphibians, 28 reptiles, 3 mammals and 1 bird all described as new species in 2012-13 from the Greater Mekong.
Regional highlights included a giant flying squirrel, a skydiving gecko, a fish that mates head-to-head and an eyeless cave-dwelling spider. The region spans Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s southwestern Yunnan province.