Previously unknown species in a relatively undisturbed bioregion of the Mekong River in northeastern Cambodia have been uncovered by a recent study — 24 in total, including a so-called "corpse plant" (Amorphophallus sp.) which secretes a smell similar to decaying flesh (biodiversity never smelled so good).
Other heartening news included the rediscovery of another species, such as Cantor's Giant softshell turtle (image of this cool turtle after the jump), believed to be extinct in Cambodia since 2003.
The study, jointly carried out by WWF Cambodia, the Fisheries Administration (FiA) and Forestry Administration (FA) of the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) covers an area of riverine forests and archipaelegos. Some fifty-five kilometres of the study area, dubbed the "Central Section", also contained former Khmer Rouge strongholds which were once inaccessible to locals and foreign agencies.
But the "Central Area" is shrinking, as it faces unregulated hunting, fishing and logging to clear land for farms, and no less than two dam proposals.
Area haven for endangered wildlife
Despite these challenges, the area is still a haven for endangered species. "Unlike many other mainstream sections of the Mekong in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, this particular part of the river remains relatively untouched by human activities," said Richard Zanre, WWF Freshwater Program Manager.
This is home to many at-risk species - including 36 of which are listed as threatened under the IUCN Red List, such as the critically-endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin, Hog Deer, Silvered Leaf-monkey, Long-tailed Macaque and Otters, White-shouldered Ibis, River Tern, Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser and Greater Adjutant.
"Critical first step"
"Documenting Mekong's biodiversity and natural resources is a critical first step is to preserving them," says Seng Teak, WWF Country Director. By highlighting the perils faced by these species and having already worked closely with the government on the study's findings, WWF Cambodia is seeking to designate this region as a 'special management site.'
"We still have chance to preserve the values which are left because the area is small, most impacts and threatening activities have only begun recently, and human densities are low," says Phay Somany, Senior Project Officer with WWF's Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project.