Priorities for Success: 2nd Meeting of the Saola Working Group wraps up in Vietnam

The Saola Working Group (SWG), of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)/Species Survival Commission (SSC) Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, recently gathered for its 2nd meeting. The meeting, themed “Priorities for Success”, was held in late April in central and Hue, Vietnam.

Martha, a captive Saola in Lao PDR In the 1990's.

Following on from the 1st SWG meeting hosted in Vientiane by IUCN Lao PDR in 2009, two sessions were convened, with SWG members first meeting at Vinh University, followed by a larger three-day workshop in Hue, recognizing that Saola conservation requires a strongly collaborative effort.

Described in 1993 from central Vietnam, the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) was one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries the 20th century. Saola is endemic to the Annamite Mountains of Lao PDR and Vietnam, and since its discovery, it has declined to a status of Critically Endangered (2010 IUCN Red List), due mainly to intense hunting in its range. Saola is now one of the most endangered mammals in Asia, akin only to the two Southeast Asian rhinoceroses.

The meeting provided an opportunity to gain feedback on the draft "Saola Conservation Projects Portfolio", as well as to review research on Saola, focused on moving forward with trials of a method to detect Saola in the field (such as using trained dung detection dogs), and learning more about basic aspects of Saola life history and behavior through a telemetry study.

A valuable discussion on improving protection at key sites took protected area managers through: identification of the types and levels of protection they have in place now; the standard of protection that is likely required to conserve Saola; and how to bridge any gaps. Contract rangers in a new Hue Saola Nature Reserve are a potential model for achieving improved protection for Saola throughout the region. A highlight of the meeting was the chance to meet some of the new and very active forest guards of this recently established Nature Reserve.

Part of the IUCN Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, under the SSC, the Saola Working Group seeks to advance conservation of the saola in nature through an exchange of information, ideas and encouragement, and the collaborative promotion of sound research and priority conservation actions.

The meeting was hosted by the Vinh University Department of Zoology, WWF-Vietnam and Thua Thien-Hue Province. Participants included representatives of provincial and national Governments in Vietnam and Lao PDR, of most protected areas in the Saola's range, academic institutions such as Vinh University, the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR), the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) in Vietnam and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Cambridge University, as well as international organizations like IUCN, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).

About the Saola Working Group:
The Saola Working Group (SWG) was formally established in 2006, in recognition of the need to markedly increase focus on conservation of this remarkable animal, while time remained. The group was born from a side meeting at the 2004 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Bangkok. It presently has 18 volunteer members, based mainly in Lao PDR and Vietnam.

For more information on the Saola Working Group, please contact:
William Robichaud
Saola Working Group
IUCN/SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group
Vientiane, Lao PDR

Work area: 
Viet Nam
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