A gibbon with a Star Wars name and a “toad from Middle Earth” are among newly discovered species in Asia’s Greater Mekong documented by scientists in 2017.
Some 157 species new to science in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam were described by last year by researchers who had ventured into jungles, mountains, rivers and grasslands to make the discoveries.
A new report, New Species On The Block from WWF, reveals the three mammals, 23 fish, 14 amphibians, 26 reptiles and 91 plant species discovered for the first time.
The newly discovered species include a tiny toad with sharp horns that was named after an elf due to its discovery in a foggy, mountainous, mossy “elfin forest” in Vietnam.
The horns and the place it is found have led some to liken it to a toad from Lord Of The Rings’ Middle Earth.
And the Skywalker hoolock gibbon has been described as a new species, after a decade’s work, and is now listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primates on the planet.
The gibbon was given its name due to its ability to move through the forest canopy and scholarly history in China which often regarded the animals as having noble or mystical characteristics.
A pancake shaped catfish from Burma, a leaf-toed gecko with “racing stripes” from its snout to the tip of its tail found in Thailand and a bat with frosted tips “hair” are among the other discoveries.
Also newly documented in 2017 were a Thismia herb species from Laos that is already endangered because its habitat is leased out for limestone mining and a bamboo species from Cambodia that grows alongside roads, making it vulnerable to being cleared.
Paul De Ornellas, chief wildlife adviser at WWF said: “The Greater Mekong is one of the richest regions on the planet for wildlife and every year scientists discover new species, identifying previously unrecognised fauna and flora.
“Sadly, the Greater Mekong is under threat from large infrastructure development, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade meaning many of these species are already facing extinction.
“Others, undiscovered species, may already have been lost.
“That’s why we need to take urgent action to protect our most important places.”
Global wildlife populations have declined by 60% on average since 1970, according to a recent report by WWF, with the charity warning the situation is likely to be worse in the Greater Mekong due to large-scale destruction of wild areas and poaching.