Annamite striped rabbit

The Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) is one of the most interesting animals to have recently been discovered by science in this region. Goldish-tan, with dark tiger-like stripes streaked across its body, this is, in my opinion, the most stunning lagomorph in the world. Add to this the fact that nothing is known about the basic ecology of this species and you have an enigmatic animal that captivates the imagination. Prior to its discovery the only striped rabbit know to science was found on the island of Sumatra. There in the deep jungles lives the aptly named Sumatran striped rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri). Although officially described in 1880, this rare nocturnal rabbit is seldom seen, and not much is known about it. For the next hundred plus years it was believed to be the only striped rabbit in the world. Then in the late 1990s the Annamites yielded another biological surprise: a second striped rabbit species. A biologist working in the region first came across the Annamite striped rabbit when he saw captured animals being offered for sale in a food market in a rural town in Laos. Not long after this it was confirmed to exist in Vietnam. Subsequent surveys indicate a geographic range from the Northern to Central Annamites and possibly into the Southern Annamites. Like the other two species we have covered in Species Spotlight, the Annamite striped rabbit lives only in wet evergreen tropical forest.

One of the first questions that came up was: What is a striped rabbit doing more than a thousand miles from its nearest evolutionary neighbor? A good question—and one that has not yet been resolved. One theory holds that the two striped rabbits diverged from a common ancestor—approximately 8 million years ago, according to recent molecular work—when glacial ice sheets fragmented Southeast Asia creating pockets of refugia forest. What else do we know about the Annamite striped rabbit? You probably know the answer by now. Not much. Aside from a few camera trap photos and specimens encountered in wildlife markets there has been very little documented evidence. If fact, along with the Sumatran striped rabbit, it is the most elusive lagomorph known to science. To date no scientific study has been conducted to determine exact range or population status. We do know that the species is losing suitable habitat through extensive logging and that numbers have been reduced from historic levels through intensive hunting. But because biologists lack specific information it is listed by the IUCN as Data Deficient.

And now the crucial question from a conservation perspective: What do we do next? To assess the current situation biologists need to conduct surveys that will give presence or abundance data. Camera trapping offers a promising tool for population monitoring. Indeed, camera traps have captured some images of this secretive species, most recently from the Hue Saola Nature Reserve and Pu Mat National Park, but more work is needed to generate relevant data. Leeches offer one of our best options for detecting and monitoring the species. Those of you who read the original leech article will recall that the Annamite striped rabbit was one of the species detected in their samples. It is my hope that the leeches I collect this fall will yield data on this elusive lagomorph.  

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Annamite striped rabbit
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