Often called the Asian unicorn, the Saola is a solitary ungulate, endemic to the forests of the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. Unfortunately, due to intense wildlife hunting, the rare species – only discovered two decades ago, has been classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and Copenhagen Zoo, and hosted by WWF Viet Nam, the Saola Working Group (SWG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group held its biennial meeting in Hanoi, for four days in November 2015 to discuss the way forward for Saola conservation.
The SWG, formed in 2006, is a network of NGOs and government partners that recognizes the need for urgent, focused and coordinated action to save the Saola from extinction. The SWG comprises of 35 volunteer members from a range of conservation oragnisations in Lao PDR, Viet Nam as well the world. In addition to being a driver of Saola conservation, the SWG is an active advocate for the conservation of the Annamite Mountains as a whole.
SWG meetings are valuable and essential as it brings together various conservationists from multiple sectors and fields such as civil society, government, national and foreign biologists, academics and site-based conservationists, to share ideas and perspectives. The recent SWG meeting had two significant outcomes. The “One Plan” approach, which requires close integration of conservation in nature, with conservation breeding, into a single programme, was fully embraced for Saola conservation. A SWG Steering Committee was also established and elected as a response to an increase in needs of Saola conservation as well as SWG’s membership.
Newly elected members of the SWG Steering Committee are: Sarah Brook, WCS-Cambodia; Dr. James Burton, Chair, IUCN SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group; Dr. Cao Tien Trung, Vinh University (Vietnam); Dr. Will Duckworth; Dr. Barney Long, WWF-US; Douglas Richardson, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland; Bill Robichaud, SWG Coordinator, and Global Wildlife Conservation; Dr. Weston Sechrest, Global Wildlife Conservation; and Dr. Chanthavy Vongkhamheng, Lao Wildlife Conservation Association.
Saving Saolas from extinction is not an easy task, however, valuable meetings such as these, which lead to deeper collaboration between various experts and conservationists from across sectors and fields, contributes significantly towards future success.
This article was contributed by William Robichaud, Coordinator, Saola Working Group