157 new species in Asia, but threatened by climate change

Last year WWF discovered 157 new species in the Greater Mekong Region. The new report entitled “New Species on the Block”, lists 3 mammals, 23 fish, 14 amphibians, 26 reptiles and 91 plants, found in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Many of the species were found in remote jungle areas, isolated rivers and grassland.

However, WWF warns that these new species and many more, as yet, undiscovered species will be lost due to deforestation, climate change, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. The report warns that there are many more species waiting to be discovered and tragically, many will be lost before that happens. WWF advocates setting aside large reserves, designated for wildlife, along with increased efforts to close illegal wildlife trade markets.

This fragility ranges from bamboo — a variety with unique bulb-like features at its base, discovered in Cambodia’s fragrant Cardamom Mountains, vulnerable to clearing — to the new thismia herb from Laos, already endangered because its habitat has been leased out for limestone mining.

Of the new mammals discovered, the Skywalker Hoolock Gibbon was first sighted in mid-2017 and named after the “Star Wars” character. Already however, it is the 25th most endangered primate in the world. It and many other ape species in southern China and Southeast Asia are at risk due to habitat loss and hunting, says WWF.

The report highlights that a growing illegal wildlife trade also puts many species at risk. While some countries such Laos and Myanmar have tried to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade, by increasing penalties and shutting down shops and markets, poachers can easily capture and transport animals across borders.

WWF says that by highlighting these incredible discoveries, they are sending a message that even though the threats are immense to wildlife in the Greater Mekong, there is still hope for the future, because so many amazing new species are being discovered all the time. But it’s a race against time to announce a new discovery so steps can be taken to protect it before it’s too late.

But what should the private sector do to protect biodiversity? There are two basic, and complementary, ways to address biodiversity issues. The first is to view biodiversity as a series of business risks that need to be managed and mitigated, to reduce costs, enhance reputation and ensure smooth operations. The second is to create value for a business by maintaining biodiversity in its natural state.

At a practical level part of the risk assessment and due diligence processes that companies are involved with should include biodiversity impacts. But in terms of the operation of business biodiversity can be protected through sourcing and marketing sustainably produced products, such as timber, food and fibre that is grown or harvested in such a way as to minimize impacts on nature.

A positive performance on biodiversity can enhance a company’s standing among outside stakeholders and create real business value for the company. At the same time, poor performance or negative impacts on biodiversity can seriously undermine corporate value and affect a company’s ability to operate and survive.

Perhaps risk management is still the main for addressing biodiversity issues. But there are also an evolving set of opportunities for the private sector to capitalize on biodiversity values. Changing laws and changing consumer demands and expectations are contributing to the rapid rise of new market opportunities for businesses to capture value from biodiversity-related goods and services, while at the same time providing important public goods through biodiversity conservation and social benefits.

Business needs biodiversity and perhaps biodiversity will benefit if businesses think about the impacts they have and the contribution they can make.