WWF report highlights 380 new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong region

Posted on May, 22 2023

Conservation organisation urges protection from shrinking habitats and wildlife trade.
Ha Noi – May 22nd, 2023 - 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 described by scientists in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia in 2021 and 2022, according to a new report released today by WWF. 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. 
The report documents the work of hundreds of scientists from universities, conservation organisations and research institutes around the world who discovered 290 plants, 19 fishes, 24 amphibians, 46 reptiles and one mammal in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. 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.

Among the 380 new species, some flora and fauna highlights in Viet Nam include:
  • Rhododendron tephropeploides, a pretty white flower, was discovered at the Fansipan the highest mountain in Viet Nam and located in Hoang Lien Son mountain range.
  • Xephoanthus nubigenus which means “cloud flower” and was discovered in forests covered with clouds at the mountain peak of the Lang Biang Plateau in Lam Dong province.
  • Khoi’s mossy frog - Theloderma khoii - a large, spectacular find in mossy-green colour which helps the species blend into the lichen and moss-covered stony, leafy background. This master of camouflage was discovered in the deep narrow valleys within the forested limestone mountains of Northeastern Viet Nam.
  • A skink - Subdoluseps vietnamensis - was discovered in forests around acacia and rubber plantations in Ba Ria - Vung Tau and Binh Thuan provinces in Southern Viet Nam. The ability to burrow in the sand help this species escape from predators and fire.
  • A sunbeam snake - Xenopeltis intermedius – was named for their iridescent scales and discovered 2,500m above sea level in the Central Annamites of Viet Nam. 
"These new species are under intense pressure from deforestation, habitat degradation, road development, 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,” said Mr. Nguyen Van Tri Tin, WWF-Viet Nam Wildlife Practice Lead. “We have to take urgent actions to stop their extinction by protection of their habitats, support for species recovery, rewilding and combating illegal wildlife trade and poaching.”
In his foreword to the report, Dr. Truong Q. Nguyen with the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, notes that immediate action, and the increased use of new technologies such as bio-acoustics and genetic sequencing are needed to help scientists discover more species in this biodiversity hotspot. “To reverse the rapid biodiversity loss in the region, more concerted, science based, and urgent efforts need to be made and conservation measures need more attention from governments, NGOs and the public,” said Nguyen. 
WWF works with government, non-profit and private partners across the five Greater Mekong countries on conservation strategies designed to protect these species and their habitat. They protect flagship species such as Asian elephants, Irrawaddy dolphins and tigers, as well as the forests, rivers and oceans they depend on. To stop wildlife declines, WWF is strengthening protected areas, and tackling the snaring crisis, illegal wildlife markets, online wildlife trade, and the financial crimes associated with wildlife trafficking. 
Highlights of the report include:
  • The Cambodian blue-crested agama, an aggressive lizard that changes colour as a defensive mechanism and described from lizards found near an Angkor era archeological site.
  • Hayes’ thick-thumbed myotis, a mouse-eared bat with unusual fleshy thumbs that was named a new species after a specimen sat in a Hungarian museum for 20 years.
  • Dendrobium fuscifaucium, a miniature orchid with brilliant pink and bright yellow colouring that resembles the beloved “Mah na mah na” muppets.
  • Suzhen’s krait, an extremely venomous snake, named after Bai Su Zhen, a snake goddess from a Chinese myth called the Legend of the White Snake.
  • Cleyera bokorensis, an evergreen shrub threatened by a Cambodian casino, dam and residential development. 
  • Viet Nam’s Thai crocodile newt is threatened by agricultural encroachment and logging, and collection by communities as a traditional cure for abdominal pain and parasitic infection.
  • Thailand’s bent-toed gecko was named after a mythical tree nymph – Rukha Deva – that lives in trees and protects the forests. Discovered in the Tenasserim Mountains bordering Myanmar. It aggressively opens its mouth and waves its tail side-to-side when threatened.
  • A new species of gecko discovered in Laos’ capital city Vientiane, whose home is being fragmented by construction projects.
  • A semi-aquatic snake, Hebius terrakarenorum, found in the Dawna-Tenasserim Landscape between Thailand and Myanmar, is 650 mm long and was identified entirely from road-kill specimens collected over a decade and a few photos.
WWF-Greater Mekong New Species 2021 - 2022
Rhododendron tephropeploides, a pretty white flower, was discovered at the Fansipan the highest mountain in Viet Nam.
© Richard Baines
Khoi's mossy frog, described in 2022 in Viet Nam.
© Nguyen Thien Tao