Psychedelic rock gecko among dozens of species in need of further conservation protection in Vietnam

Researchers recommend IUCN CPSG’s One Plan Approach to Conservation measures, which include both habitat conservation and increasing the number of threatened species in breeding stations and zoos. 

Endangered psychedelic rock gecko (Cnemaspis psychedelica)
Photo by Thomas Ziegler. Licence: CC-BY.

Further conservation measures are required to protect Vietnamese reptiles, such as the psychedelic rock gecko (Cnemaspis psychedelica), from habitat loss and overharvesting, concludes a new report, published in the open-access scientific journal Nature Conservation.

Having identified areas of high reptile diversity and large numbers of endangered species, the study provides a list of the 50 most threatened species as a guide for further research and conservation action in Vietnam. 

The study, based on the bachelor thesis of Lilli Stenger (University of Cologne, Germany), recommends IUCN CPSG’s One Plan Approach to Conservation measures, which, next to improved habitat conservation, also involves increasing the number of threatened species in breeding stations and zoos to maintain populations suitable for restocking. 

Co-authors of the report are Anke Große Hovest (University of Cologne, Germany), Truong Quang Nguyen (Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology), Cuong The Pham, (Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology), Anna Rauhaus (Cologne Zoo, Germany), Minh Duc Le (Vietnam National University), Dennis Rödder (Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change, Germany) and Thomas Ziegler (University of Cologne and Cologne Zoo, Germany).

“Modern zoos, as well as local facilities, can play a crucial role in not only conducting or financially supporting in situ conservation projects, that is to say in nature, but also by protecting species from extinction through maintaining ex situ assurance colonies to reinforce in situ conservation programs,”

said Prof. Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Vietnam conservation team member and coordinator from Cologne Zoo, Germany.
Endangered Truong Son pit viper or Quang Binh pit viper (Trimeresurus truongsonensis).
Photo by Thomas Ziegler. Licence: CC-BY.

The scientists identified 484 reptile species known to Vietnam, aiming to provide a baseline to authorities, conservationists, rescue centers, and zoos, so they can follow up with appropriate conservation measures for endangered species. They note that the number is likely to go up, as the country is regarded as a top biodiversity hotspot, and the rate of new reptile species discoveries remains high.

According to the IUCN Red List, 74 of the identified species are considered threatened with extinction, including 34 endemic species. For more than half of Vietnam’s endemic reptiles (85 of 159), the IUCN Red List status is either missing or outdated, and further research is imperative for these species, the researchers say.

Vietnam has a high level of reptile diversity and an outstanding number of endemic species. The species richness maps in the study revealed the Central Annamites in central Vietnam to harbor the highest endemic species diversity (32 species), which highlights it as a site of particular importance for reptile conservation. Alarmingly, a protected area analysis showed that 53 of the 159 endemic species (33.2%) including 17 threatened species, have been recorded exclusively from unprotected areas, such as the Psychedelic Rock Gecko.

The Critically Endangered Annam pond turtle (Mauremys annamensis) is one of the most endangered turtle species in Vietnam and in the world. It is not known from any protected area. Despite likely being extinct in the wild,  ex situ conservation programs have been implemented in time with a high number of individuals being kept and bred in zoos and stations and now ready for restocking actions.
Photo by Thomas Ziegler. Licence: CC-BY.

In General, Vietnam is considered a country with high conservation priority due to habitat loss and overharvesting for trade, traditional medicine and food.

Globally, reptiles are considered a group of special conservation con­cern, as they play an important role in almost all ecosystems and often have relatively small distri­bution ranges, making them especially vulnerable to human threats.

***

Original source:

Stenger L, Große Hovest A, Nguyen TQ, Pham CT, Rauhaus A, Le MD, Rödder D, Ziegler T (2023) Assessment of the threat status of reptile species from Vietnam – Implementation of the One Plan Approach to Conservation. Nature Conservation 53: 183 221. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.53.106923

***

Follow Nature Conservation on Facebook and Twitter.

Southernmost crocodile newt record is a threatened new species

“Exceptional discovery” for its colors, the amphibian is also the first crocodile newt species known from the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

A spectacular crocodile newt from the Central Highlands of Vietnam was just published in the international peer-reviewed open-access academic journal ZooKeys.

“It is an exceptional discovery as it is one of the most colourful species in the genus Tylototriton. This is also the first time that a crocodile newt species is recorded from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Occurring at elevations from 1,800 to 2,300 m above sea level, this discovery sets an elevational record for the genus in the country, with former distribution ranges between 250 m and 1,740 m.”

says discoverer and first author of the study Trung My Phung.

Furthermore, the discovery by the Vietnamese-German researcher team, which was supported by the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology and the Cologne Zoo (Germany), represents the southernmost distribution range of the genus known to date.

The habitat of the new species is located approximately 370 air km away from the nearest Tylototriton population, which makes it an important discovery in terms of evolution and zoogeography. 

The name “ngoclinhensis” refers to the type locality of the new species, Ngoc Linh Mountain. Restricted to evergreen montane forest, the Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt is currently known only from the Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve, Kon Tum Province, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. This is the eighth salamander taxon described from Vietnam, and is the thirty-ninth Tylototriton species officially recognized.

The newly described crocodile newt Tylototriton ngoclinhensis sp. nov.
Photo by Prof. Dr. Tao Thien Nguyen.

Crocodile newts, scientifically known as the genus Tylototriton, include nearly 40 species inhabiting montane forest areas throughout the Asian monsoon climate zone. Remarkably, 15 of these species have been described in the past five years, and there remain several unnamed taxa, which contain cryptic species that are morphologically difficult to distinguish. 

Established in 1986, Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve is a key biodiversity area for rare species like the endangered Golden-winged Laughingthrush and the Truong Son Muntjac. The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt certainly will represent another flagship species of this protected area and its surroundings, say the researchers.

Ngoc Linh has become a hotspot of amphibian diversity, with numerous endemic species. An earlier study – published in the Nature Conservation journal in 2022 – highlighted the extraordinary endemism rate of amphibians in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

“[The Central Highlands is] where the highest amphibian species diversity was recorded for Vietnam, with 130 species, while also containing the highest number of regionally occurring, micro-endemic amphibians, amounting for 26 species,”

explains one of the authors of this and the present study, Prof. Dr. Truong Quang Nguyen, vice director of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR), Hanoi.

This recent discovery is another remarkable case, “demonstrating that the Central Highlands play a special role in Vietnamese amphibian diversification and evolution,” by the words of co-author Dr. Cuong The Pham from IEBR. 

The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt belongs to the group of range-restricted, so-called micro-endemic species, which face the greatest risk of extinction because of their presumably small population size. Unfortunately, on top of its special zoogeographic situation and rarity, its particularly colorful appearance will likely make it highly attractive to illegal collectors.

“Therefore, this discovery is of high conservation relevance,”

says one of the corresponding authors, Prof. Dr. Tao Thien Nguyen from the Institute of Genome Research, Hanoi.

The species should be provisionally considered to be listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, the researchers say. All the species of the genus Tylototriton are already listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and also in the Governmental Decree No. 84/2021/ND-CP of Vietnam. The new species thus is automatically protected under these regulations.

Now, conservation activities on site have priority, but the team is already working on breeding conservation measures, which is in line with the One Plan Approach to Conservation, developed by IUCN’s Conservation Planning Specialist Group, which combines in-situ and ex-situ efforts and various expertises for the optimum protection of a species. 

“This has already been successfully implemented for another recently discovered, micro-endemic crocodile newt species from Vietnam, Tylototriton vietnamensis, of which already more than 350 individuals could have successfully been reproduced at the Cologne Zoo in Germany and also at the Melinh Station for Biodiversity in Vietnam, which is a promising example for IUCN’s Reverse the Red campaign and the idea of the conservation zoo”,

says Prof. Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Vietnam conservation team member and coordinator from Cologne Zoo, Germany.

***

Research article:

Phung TM, Pham CT, Nguyen TQ, Ninh HT, Nguyen HQ, Bernardes M, Le ST, Ziegler T, Nguyen TT (2023) Southbound – the southernmost record of Tylototriton (Amphibia, Caudata, Salamandridae) from the Central Highlands of Vietnam represents a new species. ZooKeys 1168: 193-218. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1168.96091

***

Follow ZooKeys on Twitter and Facebook.

New to science newts from Vietnam with an important message for Biodiversity Day 2020

A new study, published in the peer-reviewed open-access journal ZooKeys, describes two new to science species and one subspecies of crocodile newts from northern Vietnam. However, this manifestation of the incredible diversity of life hosted on our planet comes as an essential reminder of how fragile Earth’s biodiversity really is.

One of the newly discovered crocodile newt species, Tylototriton pasmansi
Photo by Cuong The Pham

In time for the International Day for Biological Diversity 2020, the date (22 May) set by the United Nations to recognise biodiversity as “the pillars upon which we build civilizations”, a new study, published in the peer-reviewed open-access journal ZooKeys, describes two new to science species and one subspecies of crocodile newts from northern Vietnam. However, this manifestation of the incredible diversity of life hosted on our planet comes as an essential reminder of how fragile Earth’s biodiversity really is.

Until recently, the Black knobby newt (Tylototriton asperrimus) was known to be a common species inhabiting a large area stretching all the way from central and southern China to Vietnam. Much like most of the other members of the genus Tylototriton, colloquially referred to as crocodile newts or knobby newts, it has been increasingly popular amongst exotic pet owners and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Meanwhile, authorities would not show much concern about the long-term survival of the Black knobby newt, exactly because it was found at so many diverse localities. In fact, it is still regarded as Near Threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s Red List.

However, over the past decade, the increasing amount of research conducted in the region revealed that there are, in fact, many previously unknown to science species, most of which would have been assumed to be yet another population of Black knobby newts. As a result, today, the crocodile newts represent the most species-rich genus within the whole family of salamanders and newts (Salamandridae).

One of the newly discovered crocodile newt species, Tylototriton sparreboomi
Photo by Anh Van Pham

Even though this might sound like great news for Earth’s biodiversity, unfortunately, it also means that each of those newly discovered species has a much narrower distributional range, making them particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and overcollection. In fact, the actual Black knobby newt turns out to only exist within a small area in China. Coupled with the high demand of crocodile newts for the traditional Chinese medicine markets and the exotic pet trade, this knowledge spells a worrying threat of extinction for the charming 12 to 15-centimetre amphibians.

In order to help with the answer of the question of exactly how many Vietnamese species are still being mistakenly called Black knobby newt, the German-Vietnamese research team of the Cologne Zoo (Germany), the universities of Hanoi (Vietnam), Cologne and Bonn (Germany), and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology analysed a combination of molecular and detailed morphological characters from specimens collected from northern Vietnam. Then, they compared them with the Black knobby newt specimen from China used to originally describe the species back in 1930.

Thus, the scientists identified two species (Tylototriton pasmansi and Tylototriton sparreboomi) and one subspecies (Tylototriton pasmansi obsti) previously unknown to science, bringing the total of crocodile newt taxa known from Vietnam to seven. According to the team, their discovery also confirms northern Vietnam to be one of the regions with the highest diversity of crocodile newts.

“The taxonomic separation of a single widespread species into multiple small-ranged taxa (…) has important implications for the conservation status of the original species,”

comment the researchers.

The newly discovered crocodile newts were named in honour of the specialist on salamander chytrid fungi and co-discoverer Prof. Dr. Frank Pasmans and, sadly, the recently deceased salamander enthusiasts and experts Prof. Fritz-Jurgen Obst and Prof. Dr. Max Sparreboom.

The newly discovered crocodile newt subspecies, Tylototriton pasmansi obsti
Photo by Anh Van Pham

In light of their findings, the authors conclude that the current and “outdated” Near Threatened status of the Black knobby newt needs to be reassessed to reflect the continuous emergence of new species in recent years, as well as the “severe threats from international trade and habitat loss, which have taken place over the last decade.”

Meanwhile, thanks to the commitment to biodiversity conservation of Marta Bernardes, lead author of the study and a PhD Candidate at the University of Cologne under the supervision of senior author Prof Dr Thomas Ziegler, all crocodile newts were included in the list of internationally protected species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) last year.

Today, some of the threatened crocodile newt species from Vietnam are already kept at the Cologne Zoo as part of conservation breeding projects. Such is the case for the Ziegler’s crocodile newt (Tylototriton ziegleri), currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and the Vietnamese crocodile newt (Tylototriton vietnamensis), currently considered as Endangered. Fortunately, the latter has been successfully bred at Cologne Zoo and an offspring from Cologne was recently repatriated.

###

Original source:

Bernardes M, Le MD, Nguyen TQ, Pham CT, Pham AV, Nguyen TT, Rödder D, Bonkowski M, Ziegler T (2020) Integrative taxonomy reveals three new taxa within the Tylototriton asperrimus complex (Caudata, Salamandridae) from Vietnam. ZooKeys 935: 121-164. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.935.37138

Tiger geckos in Vietnam could be the next species sold into extinction, shows a new survey

The endemic reptiles are already proposed to be listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

While proper information about the conservation status of tiger gecko species is largely missing, these Asian lizards are already particularly vulnerable to extinction, as most of them have extremely restricted distribution. Furthermore, they have been facing severe declines over the last two decades, mostly due to overcollection for the international exotic pet market. Such is the case of the Cat Ba Tiger Gecko, whose tiny populations can only be found on Cat Ba Island and a few islands in the Ha Long Bay (Vietnam).

In their study, a Vietnamese-German research team, led by PhD candidate Hai Ngoc Ngo of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi, provide an overview of the evidence for domestic and international trade in tiger gecko species and update the information about the abundance and threats impacting the subpopulations of the Vietnamese Cat Ba Tiger Gecko in Ha Long Bay.

By presenting both direct and online observations, interviews and existing knowledge, the scientists point out that strict conservation measures and regulations are urgently needed for the protection and monitoring of all tiger geckos. The research article is published in the open-access journal Nature Conservation.

Cat Ba tiger gecko (Goniurosaurus catbaensis) in its natural habitat. Photo by Hai Ngoc Ngo.

Tiger geckos are a genus (Goniurosaurus) of 19 species native to Vietnam, China and Japan. Many of them can only be found within a single locality, mountain range or archipelago. They live in small, disjunct populations, where the population from Ha Long Bay is estimated at about 120 individuals. Due to demands in the international pet trade in the last two decades, as well as habitat destruction, some species are already considered extinct at the localities where they had originally been discovered.

However, it was not until very recently that some species of these geckos received attention from the regulatory institutions in their home countries, leading to the prohibition of their collection without a permit. Only eight tiger geckos have so far had their species conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List. Not surprisingly, all of them were classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Nevertheless, none is currently listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which could be the only efficient and reliable method to monitor, regulate and police the trade of the species on a global scale.

“Tiger geckos are neither sufficiently protected by law nor part of conservation programmes, due to the lack of substantial knowledge on the species conservation status and probably due to the general lack of public as well as political interest in biodiversity conservation,” they explain. “To date, exact impacts of trade on the species cannot be identified, as data of legal trade are only recorded for species listed in the CITES Appendices”.

During their survey, the researchers tracked local traders in possession of wild-caught tiger geckos representing all five Vietnamese species en route to foreign exotic pet markets, mainly in the United States, the European Union and Japan. The species were also frequently found to be sold in local pet shops in Vietnam, as well as being offered via various online platforms and social media networks like Facebook.

Having spoken to local dealers in Vietnam, the team found the animals were traded via long and complex chains, beginning from local villagers living within the species’ distribution range, who catch the geckos and sell them to dealers for as little as US$4 – 5 per individual. Then, a lizard either ends up at a local shop with a US$7 – 25 price tag or is either transported by boat or by train to Thailand or Indonesia, from where it is flown to the major overseas markets and sold for anywhere between US$100 and 2,000, depending on its rarity. However, many of these delicate wild animals do not arrive alive at their final destination, as their travels include lengthy trips in overfilled boxes under poor conditions with no food and water.

Indeed, although the researchers reported a large quantity of tiger geckos labelled as captive-bred in Europe, it turns out that their availability is far from enough to meet the current demands.

In conclusion, the team provides a list of several recommendations intended to improve the conservation of the Asian geckos: (1) inclusion of all tiger geckos in the Appendices of CITES; (2) assessment of each species for the IUCN Red List; (3) concealment of any currently unknown localities; and (4) improvement/establishment of coordinated ex-situ breeding programmes for all species.

Signboard handed over to the Ha Long Bay Management Department to point to the threats and conservation need of the Cat Ba tiger gecko in English and Vietnamese languages.

The inclusion of all tiger gecko species from China and Vietnam in CITES Appendix II was recently proposed jointly by the European Union, China and Vietnam and is to be decided upon at the Conference of the parties (CoP18) in May-June 2019, held in Sri Lanka.

###

Original source:

Ngo HN, Nguyen TQ, Phan TQ, van Schingen M, Ziegler T (2019) A case study on trade in threatened Tiger Geckos (Goniurosaurus) in Vietnam including updated information on the abundance of the Endangered G. catbaensisNature Conservation 33: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.32.33590