The Mekong River flows from the southern provinces of China through Tibet to form the borders between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. This river travels through Cambodia as well before emptying into the South China Sea. Exploration of the Mekong River valley has been sparse up until recent years. But today more is being learnt about the animal and plant life in the area that includes previously unknown plants and animals as well as endangered species.
The Irrawaddy dolphin is a dark grey and looks entirely different from its other dolphin cousins. This unusual creature has a high, rounded forehead, no beak and what appears to be a perpetually smiling face with black eyes set way back beyond the corners of the wide mouth. This dolphin has a U-shaped blowhole on its back and small rounded fins.
This dolphin is intelligent like other members of the dolphin family. It has been reported to respond to fishermen who tap on their boats by herding fish into catch nets. In return the fishermen share the catch with the Irrawaddies, according to the Marine Bio website.
Irrawaddy dolphins are not endangered as a whole species, but certain populations such as the one in the Mekong River are considered critically endangered.
The Siamese crocodile is a freshwater crocodile that usually grows to around three meters in length. A carnivorous creature that feeds on fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, this crocodile lives in and around the Mekong River in small numbers. The species is considered virtually extinct in the wild with numbers estimated between 50 and 4,000 in Thailand due to habitat destruction and hunting for skins.
There is a lot that is not known about the Siamese crocodile in its natural habitat. But there are successful breeding operations underway in Thailand and beyond and a restocking program is adding to the wild populations around the Mekong Valley.
Mekong River Palm
The Mekong River palm is a tree that grows along the Mekong River's high waterline in the province of Yunnan, China, and in other areas along the river. This dwarf palm is a hardy plant that stands strong against the current of water than rushes over its roots, ripping most other plants away. The roots of the tree cling to the rocks and a flexible stem keeps it from snapping under pressure.
The Mekong River palm has an appearance similar to a coconut palm, only smaller. They are found in the wild as well as throughout some residential areas because of their hardiness and beauty.
New species are being discovered regularly along the Mekong River valley. According to the Telegraph website out of England, scientists discovered three new species per week in the area during an expedition throughout 2009.
Among the new species is a "Dracula minnow," a small fish with vampire-like fangs; a gecko that appears to be wearing red lipstick; and a carnivorous plant that grows in excess of 20 feet high.
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online: Mekong River
- The Mekong River: An Unknown and Threatened Kingdom
- Marine Bio: Orcaella brevirostris, Irrawaddy Dolphin
- Florida Museum of Natural History: Crocodylus siamensis
- Telegraph: Vampire fish to lipstick geckos among new species found around Mekong River
- Nature Products: Trees