We are in an urgent situation. Less than 30 years after its spectacular discovery in Vietnam, the Saola is approaching the brink of extinction. The main hunting threat is not from subsistence hunting by local people, but by commercial poaching for the wildlife trade.
Together with the organization Re:wild we would like to ensure the long-term survival of the Saola in the wild through effective conservation breeding and reintroduction.
The Saola is a primitive wild cattle species endemic to the Annamite mountain range of Vietnam and Lao. This area is one of the most biodiverse locations on a continental setting anywhere in the world.
It is primarily endangered by hunting, rather than habitat loss. It is highly threatened by hundreds of thousands of wire snares targeting a variety of species for sale into the wildlife trade mainly for wildlife meat restaurants.
Unfortunately, wild animals are taken from their natural habitat all over the world to be sold at wildlife markets. Commercial wildlife markets present a major risk for the development of zoonotic diseases. They occur when viruses or bacteria are spread from animals to people. The numerous species that are brought together at wildlife markets create a high potential to shed and share a virus, like COVID-19, that led to the current global pandemic.
Despite improvements in protected area management, no area in Vietnam or Laos is yet sufficiently protected to save a viable population of Saola. Therefore, in 2006 a Saola Working Group was formed to save the Saola from extinction. They are world’s most experienced specialists in field biology, community-based conservation, animal husbandry, and conservation breeding. Two employees of Re:wild are members of this extraordinary group. Based on their combined knowledge, the group is convinced that the Saola cannot be saved from extinction only through field conservation efforts.
That is why the Saola Working Group follows a so called “One Plan approach”. This means that the plans for conservation breeding and field conservation are combined and mutually supportive. By this it means that you are not breeding animals to maintain a captive population but breeding excess animals for reintroduction. Likewise, you may work in a park with no Saola but prepare the park for Saola reintroductions in the future. The two go hand in hand. The activities also include anti-poaching initiatives, local mentoring, and international partnership building.
There are currently no Saola in captivity, which means wild captures need to be undertaken. But the experts will ensure the highest quality of care to any Saola brought into captivity. Capturing any wild animal carries with it a level of risk but leaving any Saola in the wild at this point is fating it to death, and its species to extinction.
When there are enough Saola in captivity to sustain offtake for reintroduction and when reintroduction sites are declared safe enough, Saola can be reintroduced back into the wild. This approach provides the frame work for a long-term and comprehensive recovery program for the Saola.
This project is a flagship for conservation of the bio-cultural diversity of the Annamite Mountains as a whole. Efforts to save the Saola will have multiple benefits to other species whatever the outcome for Saola; we will learn more about elusive Annamite endemics, help in our understanding of poaching pressure and distribution, and establish conservation breeding programs for other threatened species.
Saving the Saola is essential – we cannot let this conservation flagship go extinct.