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
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