Wonders of the Annamites: Field Notes

Text by Camille Coudrat  |  Illustrations by Eric Losh

About the Annamites

The Annamites are a mountain range in mainland Southeast Asia (Indochina) that extend east of the Mekong River from central Laos and Vietnam down to southern Vietnam and a small part of eastern Cambodia. The region is among the most biodiverse in the world, with thousands of plant and animal species sharing their home with human communities that have inhabited the mountain range for generations. Little explored by scientists in the past in part because of decades of political conflict, scientists are now discovering many new species in the Annamites, revealing incredible biodiversity.

This ancient landscape has been influenced by thousands of years of wet and humid conditions, allowing vast evergreen forests to persist even throughout the last ice age when much of the rest of South-east Asia was much drier than it is at present. This stable environment has contributed to a remarkable evolution of distinct animal and plant species, some of which are endemic—found nowhere else on earth! 

The Annamite Mountain Range is among the most biodiverse regions in the world…  scientists are regularly discovering many new species.

Chinese Swamp Cypress ( Glyptostrobus pensilis ).

Chinese Swamp Cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis).

The Annamite Mountains harbour some of the world’s most recent major mammal discoveries like the Saola, Annamite Striped Rabbit, Kha-nyou, and the Large-antlered Muntjac. Even more numerous are the new species of reptiles and amphibians that have been discovered. The forests of the Annamites also hold magnificent old-growth tree species—some over 500 years old—as well as the Earth’s last remaining wild stands of the Chinese Swamp Cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis).

Annamites at Risk! 

The numerous known—and still unknown—wildlife species of the Annamites are facing the threat of vanishing forever. Faster than new species are being discovered, many are being wiped out. Biodiversity is under critical threat of extinction in the Annamites.

Habitats are being lost at an unprecedented rate as valuable trees are logged illegally and forests cleared. Wildlife is also under an astonishing pressure from hunting. Once done merely for local subsistence, forests are now being emptied because of a growing trend in recreational hunting and a massive illegal demand for wild animals for traditional medicine and luxury food for the urban wealthy. Animal skins, scales and bones are also traded as symbols of power and wealth, and live animals are illegally sold as pets. 

Recent Annamite mammal discoveries include (clockwise from top left): the Saola, Annamite Striped Rabbit, Large-antlered Muntjac and the Kha-nyou.

Hunting, selling or buying protected plants and animals (parts or whole) for food, medicine, trophies or pets is illegal.

This damaging over-harvest of wildlife is destroying an ecosystem that has been in balance for hundreds of thousands of years. Seed-dispersing animals such as hornbills, primates, deer, elephants and gaurs are being hunted out. Predator populations of tigers and leopards are vanishing. The disappearance of those ecologically important species is disrupting the whole ecosystem, modifying the composition of plant species and no longer sustaining large animals. Forests are becoming devoid of their natural richness. This compounding disruption in the ecosystem directly affects local human communities who are no longer able to find forest plant and animal species for the foods, shelters or medicines that they have used traditionally and culturally for hundreds of years.

Many of the animals in this book will become extinct in the near future if trends in hunting and habitat loss continue. Understanding this unique and threatened ecosystem is the first step toward saving the wonders of the Annamites!

Project Anoulak

Project Anoulak (meaning ‘conservation’ in the Lao language) is a French-registered not-for-profit organization founded by Camille Coudrat. The project is dedicated to the long-term conservation and study of wildlife in its natural habitats in Laos. A particular area of focus for Project Anoulak is conservation of the Nakai–Nam Theun National Protected Area (NNT NPA) (see map on opposite page), which is one of the largest remaining contiguous and least-encroached forest blocks in the Annamite Mountains and indeed in the entire Indochinese peninsula. A hotspot of endemic and rare animals, NNT NPA has been identified as a ‘key biodiversity area’ by the conservation scientist community. Project Anoulak works to safeguard the biodiversity and ecosystem in NNT NPA and support the local community for their sustainable livelihoods and development.


How does Project Anoulak help the Annamites?

Scientific research:
Conducts scientific research on several aspects of wildlife ecology, especially on the species that are the most threatened with extinction. 

Habitat protection:
Operates community-based ranger patrols to enforce the law and protect the habitat against illegal activities such as logging and poaching.

Conservation education and community outreach:
Leads school-based conservation education activities in villages within NNT NPA to inform, engage and empower local communities and future generations in ecosystem protection.

Capacity building:
Trains young Lao nationals to become the next generation of Lao biologists and conservationists.