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Scientists discover more than 100 new species, including a crocodile lizard, the snail-eating turtle

The Vietnamese crocodile lizard is one of 115 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong (© Thomas Ziegler)

Scientists have found 115 new species in the Greater Mekong region in Southeast Asia, including a crocodile lizard and a snail-eating turtle that was spotted in a Thai food market.

The types are revealed in a report, “Foreign Species” released this week by the Washington, DC-based World wildlife Fund (WWF). The discoveries that were made in 2016, the two fish, three mammals, 11 amphibians, 11 reptiles and 88 species of plants in the area around the Mekong River in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

One of the new species of Vietnamese lizard, a crocodile, a medium-sized lizard that lives in the evergreen and freshwater forest habitats of Southern China and Northern Vietnam. The reptile was discovered by Professor Dr. Thomas Ziegler and his team and has even a comic strip designed to teach children the importance of the protection of the lizards. The WWF warns that the lizard is so heavily threatened by habitat destruction, mining and collection for the pet trade that only 200 of the people can remain in Vietnam. “This is alarmingly low,” said Ziegler, in the report.

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The snail-eating turtle was discovered on a local market, in the Northeast of Thailand. “Dr. Montri Sumontha noticed that the turtle in two different markets, and suspected that it was a new species. He asked the shopkeepers, who said they caught them in a nearby canal, so he bought them to check,” according to the WWF, in a statement. Sumontha warns that the turtle is threatened by local infrastructure such as dikes and dams, and has called for the protection under the Thai law.

The snail-eating turtle is one of 115 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong (© Montri Sumontha)

Other new species include a mountain horseshoe bat, which was found in the evergreen forests of the mountainous Laos and Thailand and took 10 years to confirm if a new species. The bat’s distinctive horseshoe-shaped facial structure has prompted comparisons with one of the main characters in the famous cantina scene in “Star Wars,” according to WWF.

Two new mole species and a multi-coloured frogs were also found in Northern Vietnam, as well as a new fish species in Cambodia.

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The new species are only the latest to find in the mountain areas. Last year, an initiative of the World wildlife Fund report identified 163 new species in the region, including a ‘Klingon newt.’

The mountain horseshoe bat is one of 115 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong(© Pipat Soisook)

Between 1997 and 2016, 2,524 of new species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians have been discovered in the Greater Mekong.

“More than two new species a week and 2,500 in the past 20 years speaks to how incredibly important the Greater Mekong is the global biodiversity,” said Stuart Chapman, WWF-Greater Mekong regional representative, in a statement. “While the threats to the region, many of these discoveries give us hope that the species of the tiger to the turtle will survive.”

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In a separate announcement this week, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society said that a nest of the endangered Asian giant softshell turtle is found on a Mekong River sandbar in the northeast of Cambodia.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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