Saturday, September 26, 2009

Conservation Group: Climate Change Threatens Newly Discovered Mekong Species

Cambodian fishing boats at anchor in middle of Mekong River, on outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital (file photo)

(CAAI News Media)

By Daniel Schearf
25 September 2009

A conservation group says newly discovered species in the Mekong river region are at risk of extinction because of rising global temperatures.

The international conservation group WWF (World Wildlife Fund) says 163 species of plants and animals were discovered last year in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia where the Mekong River flows.

Some of the most unusual animals included a frog with fangs in Thailand that eats birds and a leopard-spotted gecko found on an island in Vietnam.

But in a report released in Bangkok Friday, the WWF says that temperatures in the region are expected to rise by as much as four degrees Celsius in the next 60 years and that could threaten their existence.

The WWF says rare and endangered species are at the greatest risk from climate change, because rising temperatures could affect food supplies or cause weather problems that damage habitats. It says the newly discovered species are especially vulnerable because of their restricted habitats.

"Species that live at the tops of mountains only or low-lying islands only, like this Cat Ba gecko that was just found, are also at great risk to extinction from climate-change impacts," said Geoffrey Blate, WWF's climate change coordinator for the Greater Mekong.

The Greater Mekong region spans Burma, Cambodia, China's Yunnan Province, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Stuart Chapman, the WWF's program director for Laos, says changes to wildlife in the Mekong area could also affect many of the 60 million people who depend on the river for their livelihoods.

"Of all the region's the WWF works in, the Mekong region probably has the closest link between its resource and human livelihood than any other region in the world," he said.

The WWF says more than 1,000 new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong region in the past decade.

The WWF report comes just days ahead of a major United Nations meeting in Bangkok on climate change.

The Bangkok meeting will try to narrow down a framework agreement on global emission targets to be negotiated at the end of this year.

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