In 2011, Annamite striped rabbit DNA was found in terrestrial leeches, offering one of the best options for detecting and monitoring the rabbit’s distribution and habitat preferences.
In 2011, Dr. Tom Gilbert, of the University of Copenhagen, decided to test if mammals could be detected by sequencing the host blood found in terrestrial leeches. Nicholas Wilkinson, a fellow member of the Saola Working Group and Cambridge PhD student, collected 25 jungle leeches in the forests of central Vietnam and sent them to Dr. Gilbert’s lab. Surprisingly, 21 of the 25 leeches yielded amplifiable mammalian DNA. The results showed that the leeches had fed on several common species, including pig and serow, but had also dined on some rare and elusive Annamite endemics, including Annamite striped rabbit and Annamite muntjac (Muntiacus truongsonensis), two of the most secretive mammal species in Southeast Asia.
Notably, the Annamite striped rabbit had not been detected in over 200 nights of camera trapping effort in the survey area, indicating the power this method has for detecting rare species. Not surprisingly, these results caused a stir in the biological world; utilizing this new technique could revolutionize the way biodiversity surveys are conducted in the tropical forests of Asia.
As such, leeches offer one of the best options for detecting and monitoring the Annamite striped rabbit. Terrestrial leeches can be used to study the distribution and habitat preferences of the Annamites mammal community, specifically the little-known and elusive endemics. Although leeches are a good option, it can take a long time to receive results as the collected leeches have to make an overland journey to China for analysis.