Mekong River basin
A Chinese makes his way on a boat on the Lancang-Mekong river near Jinghong close to the Chinese-Myanmar border in China's Yunnan province. Reuters

As many as 163 new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong region which encompasses the entire international Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. According to scientists the region is one of the world's most significant biodiversity hotspots.

Conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said that several new species ranging from rainbow-headed snakes to dragon-like lizards have been discovered from that region. They also added that the biodiversity which was once prevalent in the region is going down because of the high scale degradation that has been caused by rapid development in the area.

While a critically endangered and extremely rare species of banana has been discovered in northern Thailand, bizarre looking pale blue skin geckos have been spotted in Laos. Both the species are fast depleting because of increasing deforestation.

Wildlife Programme Manager for WWF-Greater Mekong, Jimmy Borah, sees the rich Greater Mekong region as a promising hope in the era when extinction rates are fast increasing, reported Reuters. "The Greater Mekong region keeps reminding us that there are many incredible, unexplored areas, leading to new discoveries happening every year and it is crucial that we protect them before they are lost," Borah told the news agency.

According to a WWF report, by 2020, the global populations of fish, birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles are likely to be reduced by two-thirds in just 50 years.

Other than being a treasure trove of different species of animals, the Greater Mekong is also the cradle for illegal wildlife trade. Rare or endangered animal are often hunted down for their skin, teeth, horns or claws. Tiger bones and rhino horns are the most sought after animal products and they are often used in traditional medicine.

"Many collectors are willing to pay thousands of dollars or more for the rarest, most unique and most endangered species, often buying them at the region's illegal wildlife markets," said Borah, according to the news agency.

"To save them, it's crucial that we improve enforcement against poaching and close illegal wildlife markets," he added.

During a raid in a popular Tiger Temple in Bangkok, Thai wildlife authorities discovered preserved tiger cubs, frozen tiger carcasses, skins and other products obtained from other protected species. Some people argued that the Tiger Temple was storing them as they are used for traditional Chinese medicine. However, the real motive behind hoarding such good remained a mystery.