Ghostly monkey among dozens of new species found by scientists in Asia

World Wildlife Fund lists 224 new types of animal in greater Mekong region

A monkey with ghostly white circles around its eyes, a bright orange twin slug snake and a small frog found in the Cardamom mountains are among 224 new species found by scientists in an Asian subregion.

The animals and dozens more have been listed in the World Wildlife Fund's latest update on the greater Mekong region.

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

The monkey, a new species of Popa langur found on the extinct Mount Popa volcano in Myanmar, was the only new mammal. 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.

The new monkey species, Popa langur, was found 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 Popa langur has broad white rings around its eyes and front-pointing whiskers.

Scientists have identified more than 3,000 new species in the region since 1997, the WWF said. The latest species listed were found in 2020, but the report was delayed.

Scientists used measurements and samples from museum collections to compare and identify key differences with features of the newly discovered animals and plants, the report said.

Studying such differences can help determine the range of species and threats to their survival, said Thomas Ziegler, a curator at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Zoology, AP reported.

New species can sometimes only be identified using methods such as the frog calls and genetic data used to distinguish the Cardamom leaf little frog, found high up in the Cardamom mountains in a wildlife refuge.

Some species are found in more than one country, including the bright orange twin slug snake.

A twin slug snake rests on a leaf. The species is listed in a report highlighting the need to protect the rich biodiversity and habitats in the Mekong region. AP

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.

The Popa langur monkey is a candidate to be listed as a critically endangered species on the Red List of the IUCN, the report said, since only 200 to 250 are thought to survive in the wild, in a handful of places.

A new type of begonia with reddish flowers and a berry-like fruit was also 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 a year ago.

A Doi Phu Kha newt sits on a branch. AP

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” – named because of its pungent odour similar to big beetles – that Thais use to make a kind of chili dipping paste served with rice, the report said.

It was found in north-eastern Thailand, in a plant shop.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 9:13 AM