Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) changed its name to Re:wild in 2021
The common names of the species that likely inhabit the remote Xe Sap National Protected Area in Southern Laos sound almost mythical: Chinese Serow, Annamite-Striped Rabbit, Saola, Annamite dark muntjac. These species’ elusive nature also lends credence to their folkloric status. GWC Associate Conservation Scientist Andrew Tilker set out to capture photographic evidence of the large mammals in one of the most unexplored protected areas in Southeast Asia. What he found didn’t disappoint.
Tilker and a team from World Wildlife Fund set out 28 cameras on photo mode and five GWC cameras on video mode in Xe Sap, which borders Vietnam. Their primary goal was to assess the likelihood of Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), dubbed the Asian unicorn, in this area by looking at the health of the larger ungulate community. The Saola is one of the rarest mammals in the world and found only in the Annamites. Although Tilker and the team didn’t capture video of the Saola, they did manage to capture what may be the only video ever taken of another Asian hoofstock species in this part of Laos—the dark muntjac, a small deer with short antlers that scientists know virtually nothing about.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the video,” Tilker says. “Annamite dark muntjac aren’t nearly as rare as, say, Saola, but they’re still not easy to come across. Besides that, this little guy is one of the most mysterious and elusive deer in the Annamites. Or the world, for that matter. The dark muntjac is an information black hole.”
“Resolving the dark muntjac taxonomy and assessing the conservation needs for these species is one of the most pressing conservation issues in this region,” Tilker says.
In addition to the rare footage of the dark muntjac, the team recorded video of a goat-like ungulate called the Chinese Serow (Capricornis milneedwardsii), Stump-Tailed Macaque (Macaca arctoides) and Asiatic brush-tailed porcupine (Atherurus macrourus). Until recently, Xe Sap supported a diverse group of large mammals, including the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Tiger (Panthera tigris) and Dhole (Cuon alpinus). However, logging has degraded much of the habitat and illegal hunting has decimated wildlife populations. GWC recently created the Walter Steven Sechrest Endowment for Wildlife Protection in part to combat poaching in this part of the world.
“Not many people even know about the Annamites, which are undersold in the press,” Tilker says. “Unexplored jungles, unknown species, and more. The jungles of Central and South America are tame compared to the wilderness of this place.”
Read more about Tilker’s adventures and the Xe Sap National Protected Area on Saola Blog: https://saolablog.wordpress.com/