Striped rabbits caught on camera

If there is a more stunning rabbit than the Annamite striped rabbit, then, brother, you and I aren’t looking at the same set of long-eared fur balls. Tiger-striped, with a buff front that fades into burnished orange, it is without doubt one of the most striking members of the lagomorph gang. As I mentioned in an earlier post, very little is known about the ecology or distribution of this species, which was only discovered by science in the late 90s. This paucity of information is due partly to its elusiveness: the striped rabbit is a true forest phantom, as secretive at it is stunning. Little-known, exotic-looking, shrouded in mystery: what more could a biologist ask for?

Annamite striped rabbit. Illustration by Joyce Powzyck
Annamite striped rabbit. Illustration by Joyce Powzyck

I hoped to find evidence of Annamite striped rabbit in eastern Xe Sap. To my knowledge, striped rabbit had not been recorded from that area, though the wet evergreen forests should be within the species range. I tried to find hunter-killed specimens on our long travel to eastern Xe Sap. To this end I examined hunter trophies from the villages of Ban Pa Le and Ban Kalo—but no dice. If they had striped rabbit skins they weren’t on display for prodding foreigners. That left two ways to find this cryptic mammal: leeches and camera-trapping. The leeches were a good bet, maybe even our best bet, but we’d have to wait a long time for the results. The collected leeches have to make an overland journey to China and then wait their turn in the queue for analysis: only then would the DNA deep inside their guts spill its secrets. For the near future, then, cameras were the only option. To be honest, I had somewhat less-than-high hopes of snapping this striped shadow. I was setting our cameras in Xe Sap for large ungulates like serow, which meant placing the cameras at distances of several meters, where they would be unlikely to pick up a small mammal hopping through the dense jungle undergrowth. But I still had some hope. After all, with camera-trapping you just never know. Maybe I would get lucky? If I did get a shot of Annamite striped rabbit it would be something of a personal triumph for me: I imagine there are more Saola in Vietnam than people who have camera-trapped this secretive species. That is to say, not a helluva lot. I don’t know the actual number. But I would guess less than ten.

Well, the results are in, and Lady Luck must be on my side, because we got not one, but two camera-trap sequences of Annamite striped rabbit. Twice these electronic eyes in the forest silently snapped one of the most elusive mammals in Southeast Asia. Actually, for a long time I didn’t know that lightning had struck twice. The first sequence is obvious enough: it shows, for several frames, a rabbit moving through the leafy undergrowth. The slightly downward-pointing camera angle beautifully reveals the dark stripes that spill across its body: in this photo the elegance of this rarest of lagomorphs is revealed in stark black-and-white contrast: it is as clear and striking a photo as I have ever had the pleasure to get with a camera trap. The second photo is different: this picture is as cryptic as the animal it captures. In fact, the first two times I looked through the Xe Sap camera trap photos I missed it entirely. The photo shows a dry rocky stream bed hemmed in on either side by thick jungle. But in one of the photos there is a rock that shouldn’t be there. And on closer inspection the rock seems to have sprouted oddly-shaped ears and muscled hind legs: a striped rabbit! Even on film this jungle ghost is adept at hiding. But there it was. And through these pictures we now had proof that this Annamite endemic was living deep inside the jungles of eastern Xe Sap. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So I’ll simply stop writing now and let you see the photos. They say more than I ever could.

Striped rabbit caught on camera
Striped rabbit caught on camera
Spot the striped rabbit?
Can you spot the striped rabbit?

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