A rare encounter with an endangered species, Vietnam



Posted on 07 June 2013  | 
An Annamites Striped Rabbit captured by a WWF's field staff in the Central Annamites.
© (c) Nguyen Huu Hoa/ WWF-VietnamEnlarge
The Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi) is endemic to the Annamite mountains of Vietnam and Laos and a protected species under Vietnamese law. The population status of this species is unknown and Annamite striped rabbit is listed by the IUCN as Data Deficient – a category meaning further research is required to understand their status. Striped rabbits are extremely shy and are rarely seen or photographed.

There is however, a lucky man, who not only saw one, but was also able to capture several beautiful pictures of this species while on his regular forest patrol. This man is Nguyen Huu Hoa, leader of a WWF Forest Guard Team in Thua Thien Hue Saola Nature Reserve.

“It was a hot summer’s day in April - six of us were on our regular patrol in the Reserve. We were going down a mountain and suddenly we saw an animal near an old cut down tree. It was just four meters away…and it was a striped rabbit.” Hoa said. “We froze with excitement. We stood still, afraid that it would run away if it heard any noise. I took out a camera, took some photos and then moved a bit closer, about 2m to get better quality images. I guessed it was sleeping, otherwise it would have run away when I moved.”

Hoa was lucky to take two good pictures of the rabbit before the animal, startled by the camera flash, ran into the forest. “I only got two good pictures but it made my day. You know, it’s not everyday that you encounter such a rare species. I’ve been with the team for two years and this is the first time I have seen one”, Hoa told us, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

The rabbit was located in a restoration forest, which has many shrubs and small trees, near A Moong stream in the Central Annamite mountain range. The mountain range is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and is home to many rare and endemic species such as Saola, muntjac, dour langur, and the striped rabbit. Recent development activities such as forest clearing for land use, construction and logging have threatened the survival of the forests and its species. To address these challenges, WWF has been working in the area since the mid-1990s to protect and conserve this precious gift of nature.

Forest Guard Patrolling is one activity of the “Avoidance of deforestation and forest degradation in the border area of Southern Laos and central Vietnam for the long-term preservation of carbon sinks and biodiversity” (CarBi Project), primarily funded by KfW – the German Development Bank. CarBi is aimed at preserving more than 200,000 hectares of forest of the Central Annamites in Vietnam and Laos. Fanie Bekker, the Trans Boundary Director of CarBi, also expressed his gratitude towards Hoa and his colleagues for the significant contribution they are making towards the protection of this international biodiversity hot spot. “Their commitment, passion and diligence are quite special, and compare very well with the best in the world”.

With his background in forestry, Huu Hoa joined WWF in January 2011 as the team leader. This was not the first time he encountered an endangered species - during his two years, he and his team have rescued and released hundreds of animals, which were trapped in snares set by illegal hunters.

“I can’t remember how many animals we saved, too many to mention - macaques, serows, big-headed turtles, ferret badgers - as well as endangered creatures such as an injured grey-shanked douc langur, trapped around a tree in March 2011.” Hoa said. “We also provided first aid to those that were injured before releasing them back into the wild.”

Deployed since 2011, the team has removed 17,813 snares set by illegal hunters, and destroyed 257 illegal logging camps. If the successes of the WWF CarBi Forest Guards in the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve are included, the numbers add up to an astonishing 26,719 snares and 515 illegal logging camps.

“With wildlife numbers decreasing due to threats from human activities, especially habitat destruction and illegal trade, I always feel relieved whenever we successfully save a species, because each individual animal counts. That’s why I love my job.” Hoa added.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank WWF’s forest guard team for all of their hard work over the past 2 years, which importantly contribute something special to the Nature Reserve.” said Mr. Le Ngoc Tuan, Director of the Thua Thien Hue Saola Nature Reserve.
 
An Annamites Striped Rabbit captured by a WWF's field staff in the Central Annamites.
© (c) Nguyen Huu Hoa/ WWF-Vietnam Enlarge

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