"Lost World Of The Annamites"

Natural History, April 1997, Volume 106, number 3, pp.14-18

This article was written by Alan Rabinowitz, who has spent the past several years working as a field biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program. Rabinowitz had heard many reports of strange and intriguing new species of animals. Rabinowitz organized a wildlife survey, along with another field biologist from his same program, two British ornithologists and four Laotian Forestry Department Officials. The trip was made into the Annamite Mountains. More specifically, the trip was made to Laos’ largest protected area, the Nakai Nam Theum. Just recently before Rabinowitz’ trip was organized, an American biologist and some Vietnamese scientists astounded the zoological world with the discovery of a strange new species. The animal was a large mammal that the locals call the "saola." The saola has been placed in a new genus, Pseudoryx, because superficial resemblance to the African oryx.

Rabinowitz and his team of scientists learned quickly that the saola was not the only mystery in the Annamite Mountains. The group visited and questioned the tribe that inhabits the Nakai Nam Theum; a group called the Hmong. They are mountain-dwelling hunters of Chinese origin. The group noticed many antlers on the "trophy walls" of the Hmong tribespeople. Many belonged to the "muntjac," the common barking deer of the area. Many of the antlers though, were thicker, larger and longer than those of the common muntjac. The pedicel(the base from which the antler grows) was also shorter. The villagers told the group that the larger variety of barking deer lived in the upper, more remote regions of the Annamites. Genetic testing of some of these larger barking deer(called the giant barking deer) proved that this was of a different species than the common muntjac, even though some of the areas that they lived in overlapped.

Next, Rabinowitz and his crew visited a local "zoo" of sorts. Here they noticed yet another variety of barking deer. This variety was smaller than the common barking deer, with a darker coat, and an orange tuft of hair between its tiny antlers (called the black muntjac). The article says that this smaller barking deer bore a basic resemblance to "Roosevelt’s" muntjac, a species described in 1932, from a single specimen. A single antlered skull of this smaller barking deer was found in the same range where the other two types also inhabit, and testing of the skull revealed that this littler variety was very genetically different from the other two varieties.

What seems so interesting to me about these findings is the fact that, while similar in so many ways, each of these three species of barking deer are so different. What is even more interesting is that they all share a common range of land that they inhabit. It seems quite likely, at least from the reader’s interpretation, that these three species evolved from one common ancestor, and consequently, from being in slightly different environments with varying needs, each developed and adapted in different ways to form the three species discussed in this article.

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