Researcher Sarah Woodfin got closer than she could ever imagine when she went in search of the rare Annamite Striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi).

She didn’t expect to catch sight of the elusive rabbit and certainly didn’t anticipate becoming the world’s first researcher to experience an Annamite Striped-cuddle.

Currently studying for a Masters in Applied Ecology and Conservation at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Sarah set out on a three-month expedition to track the camera-shy Leporidae through the mountainous Annamite region of Laos and Vietnam.

“My team and I encountered the rabbit completely by chance on the first night of my trip,” she said. "I was completely awed by the encounter.”

Rabbit expert Dr Diana Bell and a team of UEA researchers first documented the rabbit back in 1999. The species has rarely been seen since and until now the only images of the rabbit had been caught on camera traps.

The team stumbled across the rabbit hopping along by a stream nibbling on vegetation in a conservation area. Recognising it as a striped rabbit right away, Sarah was in shock.

“The rabbit was very handsome, with dark stripes against a pale gold background and a red rump,” Sarah said.

“The rabbit was bigger than I had anticipated, but light and delicate,” she added.

Genetically distinct from other rabbit species, little is known about the Annamite Striped and it is possible the animal is at risk of extinction due to deforestation and hunting.

Thanks to her close encounter, Sarah was able to take measurements and photographs before releasing it back into the forest.

She plans to use this information to model the potential distribution of the rabbit to help aid further conservation efforts.

“It is extremely important that we understand as much as possible about this species so that we can evaluate its conservation status and implement appropriate conservation measures."