WWF Highlights 25 Amazing Endemic Animals of the Annamite Mountains: These animals are found nowhere else in the world but are threatened by the illegal wildlife trade

Posted on
13 July 2023

The large-antlered muntjac (also known as “giant muntjac”) is one of the rarest species of barking deer and the beautiful saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) - sometimes called the Asian unicorn, are just two of the 25 species found only in the Annamite Mountains that straddle the border between Laos and Viet Nam featured in a New Report. All of these species are unfortunately threatened by rampant snaring and hunting driven by the wildlife trade, as well as by habitat loss and degradation, and are in dire need of conservation.

From a golden-winged laughing thrush, to an Old World monkey and a giant flying squirrel, the report highlights 12 mammals, six birds, six reptiles and one amphibian that have limited range areas within the forested valleys, steep mountains and limestone karsts that make up the rugged Annamites. Many of these species have only recently been discovered, given the remote nature of much of the nearly 11,000km2 - an area larger than Jamaica - of forested habitat in this mountain range. For instance, the saola was first described by science only in 1992; the large-antlered muntjac in 1994; the Hatinh langur in 1995; the golden-winged laughing thrush in 1999; the Annamite striped rabbit in 2000; the Lao newt in 2002; the Truong Son pit viper in 2004; the 
Kha-nyou in 2005; the Natalia’s horned dragon in 2006; the bare-faced bulbul in 2009; the Laotian giant flying squirrel in 2012; and the sunbeam snake in 2022.

"WWF-Laos is partnering with the government of Lao and local communities in Xesap National Protected Area to support the management of protected areas where saola are thought to live. This is done through counter-poaching patrols to reduce pressure on the saola and other the iconic species that are integral to this unique ecosystem,’ said Chris Hallam, Conservation Director, WWF-Laos. “While working with over 20 guardian villages, support is provided by setting up systems that encourage inclusive conservation and stewardship. Habitat recovery is achieved through forest landscape regeneration while providing opportunities to diversify livelihoods," adds Hallam.

Each species is a natural treasure and a testament to the rich biodiversity of both the Annamite range and the region as a whole. The 
Kha-nyou, to take just one example, is the only remaining member of the family Diatomyidae, with all other species having gone extinct over 10 million years ago and existing only in fossil records. This unique animal was first collected by scientists from a local market in 1996, where it was being sold alongside dead squirrels and rodents as meat.

Kha-nyou is not the only species featured in the report that was discovered in a market — and all of the highlighted species are impacted by the wildlife trade in one form or another. Hunting pressures in the Annamites have always been high, and the ongoing Snaring Crisis is emptying this landscape of wildlife at an alarming rate. Animals are hunted for meat, as medicine, and as pets or entertainment. The Lao newt, which was the only member of the salamander family in Laos when it was discovered, quickly became highly sought after in the international exotic animal trade. Within 10 years of its discovery, the population was estimated to have declined by over 50%, having been unsustainably harvested and sold by the hundreds. It is now considered to be endangered.

“The endemism represented by these Annamite species is remarkable, and represents millions of years of evolution and existence,” said Alistair Monument, Conservation Impact Director for WWF-Asia Pacific. “They are now threatened by our human activity and we need to take action quickly if they are to survive.”

WWF works with government, non-profit and private partners across the five Greater Mekong countries on conservation strategies designed to protect these species and their habitat. They protect flagship species such as Asian elephants, Irrawaddy dolphins and tigers, as well as the forests, rivers and oceans they depend on. To stop wildlife declines, WWF is strengthening protected areas, and tackling the snaring crisis, illegal wildlife markets, online wildlife trade, and the financial crimes associated with wildlife trafficking.