What's black and brown and striped all over? A new species of rabbit hopping around the forests of Southeast Asia, according to the Aug. 19th issue of the journal Nature. Discovered by biologists from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the rabbit lives in the rugged Annamite Mountains of Laos, an extremely isolated region that has yielded several new species of mammals in recent years.
The rabbit, which has distinct, dark brown stripes running down both its face and back, a reddish rump, and short ears, was first seen by WCS researcher Rob Timmins, who found three freshly hunted specimens in a food market in Ben Lak, Laos. Tissue samples were then sent to Dr. Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, where DNA analysis by Alison Surridge confirmed that the rabbit was distinct.
According to researchers, the rabbit's closest relative is a critically endangered species found in Sumatra-- about a thousand miles away; genetic data suggest that the two species may have diverged about eight million years ago. Nothing is yet known about the biology of either variety. Since Timmins' discovery, the rabbit has been photographed in a nature reserve in Vietnam.
WCS has been working to protect wildlife in Laos since 1991, and has made several remarkable discoveries in the Annamites in recent years. In 1992, WCS scientists working in Laos found the saola, a distant relative to wild cattle first documented in Vietnam. Two years later, WCS identified a new species of barking deer called the giant muntjac, and rediscovered the Vietnamese warty hog, thought to be extinct.
"It's not coincidental that the Annamites have produced several new species of large mammals, none of which is closely related to anything outside of this remote mountain area," said Dr. Joshua Ginberg, director of WCS's Asia Program. "These are ancient lineages that inform us about the evolutionary process and they must be protected."
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