Discovering Mammals in Insect Soup and Leech Stew
Posted by Richard Conniff on August 7, 2013
Wandering through the forest in Madagascar a while back, I quickly became accustomed to having land leeches turn up on various parts of my body. “Filthy little devils” is what Humphrey Bogart’s character called them in African Queen. But mostly the leeches were annoying because anticoagulants in their saliva caused the wounds to bleed long after I had flicked the leeches themselves back into the underbrush. It certainly never occurred to me that I was tampering with one of the most sophisticated and cost effective biological monitoring tools ever invented.
Imagine your mission is to visit a remote protected area and determine the presence of the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi), first discovered in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos in the 1990s, and rarely seen since then. You have tried using camera traps in likely habitats for 2000 nights—that’s more than five years—without success. Monitoring on foot has also failed to produce results, as rare mammals are often nocturnal and have typically managed to survive because they live in steep, wet, densely vegetated places. They also tend to be heavily hunted. So they naturally flee from humans. What to do?
Go out and ask the leeches what they’ve been eating.
Resarchers recently tested the method in the Central Annamite region of Vietnam, using the time-honored technique of picking the leeches—25 of them—off their own … to read the rest of this story, click here.