I came to Southeast Asia thinking that I would study tigers. Instead I study tiger rabbits. If you had told me four years ago that the focus of my work, indeed my obsession, would be furry fluff balls that could fit in my hand, I would have thought you were crazy. And yet that is exactly what has happened. I have, through my research in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, become fascinated with the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi). Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a species in this region as fascinating as this tiger-striped lagomorph.
One reason this species is so fascinating is because it is new: not in the evolutionary sense of the word, but to the scientific world. The species was only revealed to the outside world in the mid-90s. The fact that such a brilliantly patterned mammal went unknown to the outside world for so long is remarkable. For a long time, this striped shadow remained in the shadows. Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue, because camera traps have proven adept at “catching” this species. Indeed, our camera trapping work in central Vietnam has given us an unprecedented glimpse into the world of this secretive lagomorph. Getting so many photos of Annamite striped rabbit has been hands-down the more exciting, and unexpected, finding of our research. My connection to this animal was deepened when, one night deep in the jungles of central Vietnam, I was able to observe and actually hold an individual as part of our research. This personal connection is the most prized experience I have ever had in all my years of fieldwork.
I am thankful to be able to share a world with such an interesting species—especially one that has stayed under the scientific radar for so long. To me, the recently discovered Annamite striped rabbit embodies everything that makes the dense rainforests of the Annamite Mountains so special: little-known, secretive, mysterious and beautiful. I feel lucky to share the world with such an incredible animal—and am determined to make sure that future generations share this privilege.
(Photo courtesy of Andrew Tilker)