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July 26, 2007

First time images of little known deer species captured in wild
Biologists in Laos have for the first time captured images of a little known deer species, the large antlered muntiac, in the wild, ANI news agency reported.

The deer, previously known only from specimens collected by hunters and a few fleeting glimpses by biologists, stands approximately 25-30 inches tall (65-80 cm) and weighs up to 110 pounds (50 kilograms).

Its namesake antlers are significantly larger than other muntjac species found in Indochina.

The survey team from the Nam Theun 2 Watershed Management and Protection Authority (WMPA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society took the photographs using "camera traps" set in Laos' Nakai Nam

Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA), in the Annamite Mountains.

This densely forested mountain chain straddles the Laos-Vietnam border and is considered one the world's biodiversity 'hotspots.

WMPA staff had originally set up cameras to manage the more than 1,500 square miles of (4,000 square kilometres) protected area, using revenues from the nearby Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric dam, currently under construction.

The protected area forms most of the dam's watershed, and is the largest protected area in Laos or Vietnam.

Teams, including local villagers trained by the Wildlife Conservation Society, monitored the set up and came across the photos during one survey.

"We are very excited about these photos. They show the global significance of the Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area, and reinforce the importance of our work," said. Sangthong Southammakoth, Executive Director of the WMPA.

Along with several photographs of large-antlered muntjacs, was a single photograph of the Annamite striped rabbit, one of the world's rarest and least-known members of the rabbit/hare family. Both species are found only in the Annamites.

The large-antlered muntjac was discovered in the early 1990s, when researchers in Laos and Vietnam simultaneously noted its distinctive antlers in the homes of local hunters.

Researchers first discovered the rabbit in a fresh food market in Laos, in a small town near Nakai-Nam Theun, through WCS biologist Robert Timmins. (Timmins was also involved in the discovery of the muntjac). The rabbit was subsequently photographed a few times in Vietnam, but this is the time their pictures have been taken from the wild in Laos.

"This region is extraordinary for it's distinctive wildlife. We are delighted to be working with the WMPA to ensure a future for not only the large-antlered muntjac and Annamite striped rabbit, but the many other rare species that call this globally important region their home," said Dr. Arlyne Johnson, co-director of the WCS Lao Program.

Interestingly, while previous camera-trapping efforts in the large-antlered muntjac's presumed range in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, yielded no previous wild photographs of the animal, the effort in Nakai-Nam Theun yielded more than ten photographs of the species from several localities. ANI

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