New Mekong species at risk from climate change: WWF
Fri, Sep 25, 2009

BANGKOK - Scientists discovered 163 new species in Southeast Asia's Greater Mekong region last year, but all are at risk of extinction due to climate change, the WWF said in a report released Friday.

The newly discovered creatures include a bird-eating frog with fangs, a bird that would rather walk than fly and a gecko whose alien appearance inspired the report's title of "Close Encounters", the conservation group said.

The report was released ahead of major UN talks on climate change in Bangkok next week, which are being held before a make-or-break summit in Copenhagen this December.

"Some species will be able to adapt to climate change, many will not, potentially resulting in massive extinctions," Stuart Chapman, director of the WWF Greater Mekong Programme, said in the report.

"Rare, endangered and endemic species like those newly discovered are especially vulnerable because climate change will further shrink their already restricted habitats," he said.

The new discoveries in 2008 include 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, two mammals and a bird, the WWF report said. The area spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China's Yunnan province.

Among the new species is the bird-eating fanged frog, which remained hidden in a protected area of Thailand despite the fact that scientists were studying there for 40 years, the report said.

The tiger-striped pitviper was discovered accidentally on an island off the coast of Vietnam when a scientist was looking for a lizard and his son pointed ut that his hand was on a rock right next to the snake's fangs.

"We caught the snake and the gecko and they both proved to be new species," researcher Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in California was quoted as saying in the report.

The leopard gecko, found on another Vietnamese island, has the colouring of a leopard and bizarre orange, cat-like eyes and spindly limbs.

Meanwhile the nonggang babbler is a new bird species found in small flocks in China near the Vietnamese border, which only flies for short distances when frightened, the report said.

The Greater Mekong region has proved a fertile area for scientists. The WWF said in December 2008 that it had found 1,068 new species there between 1997 and 2007.

But the report said that the region's climate was already changing, with rising seas and saltwater intrusion having a particular impact.

The WWF stressed the importance of the penultimate negotiating session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, starting in Bangkok on September 28, before the December Copenhagen meeting.

World leaders in Copenhagen are expected to agree new targets for global emissions beyond 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

"Protecting endangered species and vulnerable communities in the Greater Mekong and elsewhere around the world depends on fast progress at the UN talks in Bangkok," said Kathrin Gutmann, head of policy and advocacy at the WWF Global Climate Initiative.


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