Authorities from Kerinci Seblat National Park in Indonesia have rescued a Sumatran striped rabbit, a vanishingly rare endangered species, after it was seen in a Facebook post.
Nonprofit conservation organization Fauna & Flora International and park officials worked together to locate and retrieve the rabbit.
"It is understood that the rabbit was captured opportunistically by a local farmer who encountered it at the edge of the national park next to a river that had just flooded violently," FFI said in a statement. "It had a slight injury to its flank -- possibly sustained during (a) flash flood -- but has now been safely released back into the forest by the park rangers, at a site chosen on the basis of existing camera trap data."
Despite rabbits' reputation when it comes to reproduction, this species is widely considered to be the world's rarest. Scientists' understanding of it is largely based on a handful of camera trap images and a dozen specimens in Dutch museums that were collected during the colonial period nearly a century ago.
"Very little is known about this animal, other than that it shows a marked preference for mossy hill and submontane forest," explains FFI's Deborah Martyr, who works with park officials. "Once the farmer who caught this rabbit understood its rarity, he was happy to see it returned to the national park."
While the rare rabbit's habitat is under threat from potential development, a more imminent danger may be that it's prized by collectors. In 2018, wildlife biologists from Sriwijaya University in Indonesia infiltrated a private WhatsApp group used by wildlife traders. Two Sumatran striped rabbits were being offered on the group, including a juvenile thought to be the youngest individual ever seen.
Both rabbits ultimately died, and the seller turned them over to be included in a museum in Indonesia. The incident is detailed in a short note in the journal Mammalia.
Before the recently rescued rabbit was returned to its habitat in the national park, scientists managed to take some biological samples and other data to better understand the scarce species.