(Vientiane Times News) World calls for urgent action to save “Asian Unicorn” in Laos, Vietnam
Saola experts from around the world are urging the Lao and Vietnamese governments, along with conservationists and corporations, to rally and commit to saving a species that is on the brink of extinction.
The elusive saola, often called the “Asian Unicorn”, is one of the world's most endangered and rarely seen mammals and was discovered 24 years ago in the dense jungles of Laos and Vietnam.
Conservationists made the call on World Saola Day (July 9) with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Saola Working Group demanding urgent action to save the saola.
The saola has only been recorded in the wild a handful of times by scientists since its discovery. Most recently, in November 2013, a camera trap took photos that gave renewed hope for its survival after 15 years since the last photographic evidence.
It is threatened by poaching snares and destruction of its habitat from illegal logging. The IUCN designated the saola “critically endangered” and it was placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species TM in 2006.
Speaking on the day, Country Director of WWF-Laos Mr Somphone Bouasavanh said the saola may be small in stature but its importance to conservation in Laos and Vietnam is huge.
“We have an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that the saola and its forest home survive, using cutting edge science, the world's leading conservationists and cooperation across borders,” Mr Somphone said.
WWF-Vietnam is also launching the “Save Saola” campaign to provide a platform to raise awareness and increase commitment from both the public and private sectors to conserve the saola.
“The saola symbolises everything that's at stake for us. If we can save it, we can save our forests, wildlife and the ecosystem services such as freshwater that the people living here depend upon. So for us, this is not just a fight to save one endangered species. It is a fight to save what it represents,” said WWF-Vietnam Country Director Dr Van Ngoc Thinh.
Under the Carbon and Biodiversity (CarBi) Project – supported by the German Development Bank KfW -- a network of protected areas had been created across the saola's core range in Laos and Vietnam, covering more than 200,000 hectares of Annamite forests.
The forest guards that WWF-Vietnam recruited from local villages had by the end of 2015 removed 75,295 snare traps and dismantled 1,000 poaching operations and illegal logging camps.
Despite heroic efforts by the forest guards, the level of poaching and snaring remains high in saola habitat, threatening its future survival.
If the saola is to survive in the wild, improved transboundary protected areas and increasing collaboration between Vietnam and Laos are urgently needed to protect the remaining intact forest and prevent poaching.
In addition, demand reduction programmes for wild meat and medicinal needs, especially in Vietnam, could reduce the poaching pressure that leads to saola deaths.
By Vientiane Times News
12 Jul 2016