First Saola sighting of the 21st century

Posted on 24 January 2014

The saola, one of the rarest and most threatened mammals on the planet, has been photographed in Vietnam for the first time in the 21st century. The enigmatic species was caught on film in September by a camera trap set by WWF and the Vietnamese government’s Forest Protection Department in Quang Nam province in the Central Annamite mountains.

The saola was discovered in 1992 by a joint team from Vietnam’s Ministry of Forestry (now the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development) and WWF during surveys of the forests of Vu Quang, near Vietnam's border with Laos. The species inhabits the dense evergreen forests of central Vietnam and Lao PDR and is considered to be one of the world’s rarest mammals. It is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

WWF has been involved in the conservation of the saola since its discovery, through activities such as strengthening and establishing protected areas in saola range territory, bolstering community-based forest management initiatives, and scaling up capacity building for forest law enforcement.

One of the four components of the Carbon Sink and Biodiversity (Carbi) project focuses on saola conservation in the protected areas of the central Annamite landscape in Vietnam. Our forest guard teams have been carrying out monthly patrols based on MIST/SMART reports, and since 2011 these patrols have removed more than 20,000 snares from critical saola habitat in Vietnam.

Carbi project staff has been collaborating with the provincial Forest Protection Department (FPD) and the Management Board of Saola Nature Reserves in order to implement camera trap activities since May 2012.

There are 125 camera trap locations in nine forest sections, which have recorded over 5,000 pictures of 1,750 nights in the forests. In addition to capturing the saola on camera trap, sightings have been recorded of many other species: Serow, Sambar, Red muntjac, Truong son muntjac, Large-antlered muntjac, Macaque, Tripper rabit, Pangolin, Crested argus, Wild pig, Yellow throated marten, small Indian civet, Grey squirrel, Silver pheasant, and Black bear.

WWF has been working with relevant agencies to urgently develop an action plan for saola conservation, particularly for the area where the saola was recorded on camera trap in order to prevent illegal activities that threaten saola conservation in Vietnam. The 12 priority Action Plans have been established with the participation of Saola Management Boards, Sub-FPD, Border Army, and Carbi staff.

In addition, multiple saola conservation stakeholder groups such as WWF-Vietnam, IUCN Saola Working Group, Vietnam Saola Working Group, and WCS have cooperatively set the management and monitoring targets in the Vietnam National Saola Conservation Action Plan.  
Camera trap photo taken on 7 September 2013 at early evening shows a single saola moving along a rocky forest valley stream in a remote corner of the Central Annamite mountains of Vietnam.
© WWF-Vietnam