Sumatran rabbit (Nesolagus netscheri)

Also known as: Sumatran short-eared rabbit, Sumatran striped rabbit
French: Lapin De Sumatra
Spanish: Conejo De Sumatra
GenusNesolagus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 368 – 417 mm (2)
Weight1.5 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Sumatran rabbit is thought to be the rarest species of all lagomorphs (rabbits, hares and pikas) (2). Only 15 museum specimens of the Sumatran rabbit exist, collected between 1880 and 1929, and until 1998, when the Sumatran rabbit was captured on camera, it had only been seen alive once since 1916 (3) (4). It has soft, short yellowish-grey fur, turning rusty brown toward the rear, with distinctive wide black or dark brown stripes across its face and back, providing wonderful camouflage in its forest habitat (2). The fur on the underparts is whitish, its ears are black, and its tail is so short it is not normally visible (2).

Endemic to Sumatra, where it has been found in the Barisan Mountains, west and southwest Sumatra, and there is one record from Gunung Leuser National Park in north-west Sumatra (2).

The Sumatran rabbit is one of the few lagomorphs that inhabits dense rainforest. It has been found between 600 and 1,600 metres above sea level, however, much of its forest habitat has now been cleared for tea and coffee plantations (2).

Incredibly rare, nocturnal and found only in remote forests, it is easy to understand why local people have no name for the Sumatran rabbit and why many are not even aware of its existence (2). It spends daylight hours in dark shelters, such as holes in the base of trees or burrows of its own making (2) (5), and emerges at night to feed on plants in the forest understorey (2).

The forests of the Barisan Mountains are being rapidly cleared for timber, tea and coffee plantations and human settlements. An influx of immigrants from Java through a transmigration program has only increased the rate at which the rabbit’s habitat is disappearing (2).

While the Sumatran rabbit is very poorly known, it is clear that its continued survival relies on the existence of its montane forest habitat (2) (4). It is important to locate a viable population of the rabbit, and then implement protective measures for both the rabbit and its habitat. If a population is located, it may also be necessary to initiate a captive breeding program, to create a population of rabbits for reintroduction should this rare and intriguing rabbit disappear from its natural habitat (2).

For further information on the Sumatran rabbit and its conservation see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)