Conservationists, Scientists Warn of Threat to Newly Discovered Species in Taunggyi

By Sean Gleeson 27 May 2015

RANGOON — The future of a new species of crocodile newt found in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi is being threatened by development, water pollution and poaching, according to conservationists and researchers.

The tylototriton shanorum, native to Taunggyi, was identified as a new species by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Kyoto University in Japan last year, based in part on samples of the newt collected by Burmese herpetologist Kyi Soe Lwin and deposited at the California Academy of Sciences more than a decade ago.

A report released on Wednesday by the World Wide Fund for Nature, which chronicled the species discovered in the region last year, said that the breeding ponds vital to the species’ survival were being encroached upon by waste residue and a new construction project on the grounds of Taunggyi University.

“According to local experts, construction…threatens to cut off the water flow to their core breeding ponds, threatening their survival,” said the report. “Many are killed by traffic during season migrations to and from breeding ponds, which are increasingly clogged with litter.”

The drying up of the breeding ponds appears to have continued unabated, despite the presence of a large sign nearby which declares the area to be a newt preserve.

In the Oct. 2014 edition of the Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society, where the discovery of the new crocodile newt was first published, the three researchers who identified the species said that two infants of the species raised in captivity had been found for sale in a Japanese pet shop.

“Effective management for the protection of this new species must be taken into action urgently,” the article read, adding that the introduction of regulations to prohibit the trade of wild newts in Burma was needed to protect the wild population.

According to the WWF’s report, last year a total of 139 new species were discovered across the Greater Mekong region, which comprises Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Five other species were discovered in Burma last year, including four plants and a wormlike limbless amphibian found in Irrawaddy Division, joining around 200 species formally identified as belonging to the same order as the infamous “penis snake” native to the Brazilian rainforest.

The WWF has identified new road projects, hydroelectric dams, an increase in deforestation and illegal poaching as ongoing threats to the region’s biodiversity.

“This report is a wonderful opportunity to share with the world the incredible biodiversity of the Greater Mekong Region and particularly Myanmar,” said Michelle Owen, the conservation program manager of the WWF’s Burma office. “Many of these species face threats from the illegal wildlife trade, deforestation, habitat loss and unsustainable infrastructure development.”