Myanmar’s ghostly monkey among new species found in Mekong region

Popa langur found on the steep hillsides of an extinct volcano in Myanmar among the 224 new species listed by the World Wildlife Fund.

Ghostly monkey or trachypithecus popa of the Popa langur species walking in the North Zamari Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar's Bago region.
The Popa langur was identified based on genetic matching of recently gathered bones with specimens from Britain's Natural History Museum collected more than a century ago [Handout photo via WWF]

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

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

The species listed were found in 2020, but last year’s report was delayed.

The monkey is called the Popa langur, for it lives on the steep hillsides of the extinct Mt Popa volcano in Myanmar. It was the only new mammal that has been discovered.

There are also dozens of newly identified reptiles, frogs and newts, fish and 155 plant species, including the only known succulent bamboo species, found in Laos.

The Mekong region is a biodiversity hotspot and home to tigers, Asian elephants, saola — an extremely rare animal also called the Asian unicorn or spindlehorn — and thousands of other species.

In Vietnam, researchers also found the vivid-coloured Mount Ky Quan San horned frog at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) on the peak which gives it its name.

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

The Popa langur was identified based on genetic matching of recently gathered bones with specimens from Britain’s Natural History Museum collected more than a century ago, the report said. Two main distinguishing characteristics were the broad white rings around its eyes and its front-pointing whiskers.

The WWF, working with Fauna and Flora International, caught images of the monkeys using camera traps in 2018. FFI reported the discovery late last year.

Under threat

 

The monkey is a candidate to be listed as a critically endangered species on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the report said, since just 200-250 are thought to survive in the wild, in a handful of places.

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

A new type of begonia with reddish flowers and a berry-like fruit also was found in the uplands of Myanmar, where illegal mining and logging have become an increasingly dire threat in the country, which is in the midst of political turmoil following a military takeover almost a year ago.

Despite human encroachments on tropical forests and other wild zones, much of the Greater Mekong is still little explored and each year dozens of new species are found — a glimmer of hope as so many species go extinct.

Not all new species are found deep in jungles. One of the new plant species is a ginger plant called “stink bug” for its pungent odour similar to big beetles Thais use to make a kind of chilli dipping paste served with rice, the report said.

It was found in northeastern Thailand, in a plant shop.

Source: AFP, AP