Sarah and the Striped Rabbit

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  02. 12. 2015


My notes this year include a very long list of newly discovered animal species and other events in zoology that are significant or at least remarkable. Sarah Woodfin and the Annamite striped rabbit are among the top items on my list. I was very pleased by the fact that this student has managed to document such an interesting animal!

Left side: Annamite striped rabbit. Credit: Sarah Woodfin, University of East Anglia. Right side: Laotian rock rat. Photograph by: Miroslav Bobek, Zoo Praha Left side: Annamite striped rabbit. Credit: Sarah Woodfin, University of East Anglia. Right side: Laotian rock rat. Photograph by: Miroslav Bobek, Zoo Praha

The Annamite striped rabbit was first discovered in Laos by Rob Timmins in 1996. This bearded guy whose appearance perfectly fits the idea of a field naturalist also discovered an extraordinary rodent in the same year. A similar one had already been described based on fossil record and it differs from other current rodents by a number of characteristics. It is usually referred to as kha-nyou or the Laotian rock rat.

Rob Timmins found both kha-nyou and the Annamite striped rabbit among other animals for consumption at a market in central Laos. Like he did with kha-nyou, he sent this surprisingly coloured rabbit for further research to his colleagues, namely Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia. In spite of this, the new species discovered by him was described in 2000 by Russians Averjanov, Abramov and Tichonov; at least they named it Nesolagus timminsi, Timmins’s rabbit.

As for the Laotian rock rat, it took several years to get the first photographs of a living individual, which changed the idea of what the rodent actually looks like. Until then, everybody based their images on Rob’s drawing; however, it had been based on a dead, unnaturally stretched body and was very different from the appearance of a living Laotian rock rat. On the contrary, the Timmins’s rabbit was documented now and then thanks to phototraps. However, the very first expert to hold it alive in their hands and take pictures, footage and measure it was the young student of the University of East Anglia, Sarah Woodfin, only earlier this year.

Sarah set off to Vietnam on the impulse provided by her tutor Diana Bell, to whom Rob Timmins sent the first material concerning the newly discovered rabbit years ago. Nobody including herself probably expected such a tremendous success. She was hoping to catch a glimpse of the rabbit before disappearing in the bushes during her three-month stay in Vietnam. However, she held it in her hands the very first night!

The name Sarah Woodfin and her photographs with the Annamite striped rabbit became famous all over the world. And it was well-deserved. The fortune favoured her – as it does the prepared mind. But there is a less happy ending to this story, as well as other similar ones. When Sarah duly documented the individual she had managed to capture and set it free again, she carried on with her mission. And her findings show that the Annamite striped rabbit is – as well as the Laotian rock rat – endangered not only by massive hunting but also by the development of agriculture, construction of dams and roads as well as raw material extraction. Its future is thus very uncertain.

Sarah Woodfin became the first expert to hold a living Annamite striped rabbit. Credit: Sarah Woodfin, University of East AngliaSarah Woodfin became the first expert to hold a living Annamite striped rabbit. Credit: Sarah Woodfin, University of East Anglia

Miroslav Bobek, Director of Prague Zoo