Dear Saola Conservation Partners and Supporters,
I am pleased to share with you some recent news and notes from the Saola Working Group:
Fifth meeting of the SWG
Earlier this month, in Hué, Vietnam, the Saola Working Group gathered together for our 5th biennial meeting. We usually meet in the autumn, but we fast-tracked the meeting this year because so much is currently on the move for Saola conservation.
We are indebted to the prompt and generous support of our host for the meeting, the WWF Vietnam Programme (in particular Ms. Le Thi Thu, Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh, and the staff of WWF’s Hué office), and our meeting’s funders: Copenhagen Zoo, the Center for the Conservation of Tropical Ungulates, and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
Back row, left to right: Ben Swanepoel, Pat Thomas, Jeff Holland, Cao Tien Trung, Ben Rawson, Barney Long, Julia Hanuliakova, Bill Robichaud, Simon Hedges, Terry Hornsey, Douglas Richardson, Eric Bairrão Ruivo, Crispian Barlow. Front row, left to right: Nguyen An, Le Khac Quyet, Hannah O’Kelly, Tom Gray, Rob Timmins, Outhai Vongsa, Camille Coudrat, Radoslaw Ratajszczak, Nguyen Duc Tu, Sonja Luz, Andrew Tilker, Nicholas Wilkinson.
Among other work at our four-day meeting, we elected a new SWG Steering Committed, to a two-year term:
James Burton (appointed, as Chair of our parent organization, the IUCN SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group)
Cao Tien Trung (Vinh University, Vietnam)
Tom Gray (Wildlife Alliance, Cambodia)
Jeff Holland (Center for the Conservation of Tropical Ungulates)
Khamseng Homdouangxay (WWF Laos Programme)
Barney Long (Global Wildlife Conservation)
Douglas Richardson (Royal Zoological Society of Scotland)
Bill Robichaud (appointed, as SWG Coordinator)
The One Plan Approach to save the Saola
You’ll note from the SWG meeting photo that the theme of this year’s gathering was “Saving Saola Through the One Plan Approach”. The One Plan is an approach to endangered species conservation that has been articulated by the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (the latter is ‘home’ to the SWG). In the past, efforts to conserve an endangered species in nature, and attempts to insure the survival of the same species through a captive breeding program, were often pursued separately, by different programs or agencies. The One Plan recognizes the need, if both approaches are adopted, to integrate them into a single, coordinated program to save a species from extinction. This is the approach we are taking to Saola conservation.
The SWG and its partners have made significant progress at improving protection of Saola in the wild at several key sites in Vietnam and Laos. Since new models of patrolling were initiated at five sites in 2011, the total number of illegal wire snares destroyed by rangers recruited from local villages now approaches 150,000. The number of snares routinely encountered by patrol teams has dropped significantly, but the problem has not yet been eliminated at any site. Despite significant progress, reduction of poaching pressure in the Saola’s range has still not been lowered to a level where Saola is anywhere secure. We are on the right track, but more work remains to achieve sufficient reduction in poaching.
Snares collected by rangers in Phou Sithon Endangered Species Conservation Area, Laos; photo courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society Lao Program.
Consequently, as reported earlier, following careful analysis and wide consultations, the SWG determined that the establishment of a captive ‘insurance population’ of Saola is a next, necessary step in the effort to save the species from extinction. We have integrated this decision with our protection efforts into the One Plan approach. At present, there are no Saolas in captivity anywhere, and so the conservation breeding initiative will have challenges, and risks. That said, I am confident that the SWG and our partners are up to the challenges, and the risks now of not acting on this probably pose a greater threat to the survival of Saola. In short, there is no risk-free option for Saola conservation, and we believe the One Plan approach gives Saola the best chance. Here are some updates on recent progress on development of the conservation breeding program:
- After consultations with the governments of Vietnam and Laos, both agreed that Vietnam is the best option to host the first Saola breeding center (the long-term goal, for insurance sake, is to have two centers, one in each Saola range country; but we will start by focusing all effort and resources on one).
- Poland’s Wroclaw Zoo has agreed to partner with the SWG and support the government of Vietnam by providing the expertise necessary for international best-practice management of the center.
- Last November, SWG members Dr. Cao Tien Trung, Dr. Nicholas Wilkinson and Dr. Hannah O’Kelly and Wroclaw Zoo staff Marcin Matuszak began field research in Vietnam on safe and effective methods to capture wild Saolas for the breeding program.
- Members of the SWG and staff of Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) inspected several potential locations in Vietnam for the center, and identified Bach Ma National Park, in central Vietnam (the park straddles Thua Thien-Hué and Quang Nam provinces) as the best option.
- Both MARD and the SWG have agreed that the center will also support conservation of other threatened ungulates in the Annamite Mountains, most urgently Large-antlered Muntjac.
- The SWG and MARD have drafted a Memorandum of Agreement to establish our partnership for implementation of the conservation breeding program.
Most recently, in late February, a joint team of SWG members, MARD staff, staff of Bach Ma NP, and zoo designer Julia Hanuliakova of Zoo Design, Inc., spent three days exploring Bach Ma to identify the best site within the park for development of the center. The survey was made possible by the able assistance of Nguyen Manh Hiep of MARD, and was supported by funds generously provided by the Zoological Society of London. All agreed that a forested site of 35 hectares not from the park’s entrance, which offers sufficient seclusion, but still has good road access and some infrastructure nearby, is the best option. The park authorities have graciously offered the site for development of the breeding center.
Next steps are completion and the signing of the Memorandum of the Agreement, a detailed survey of the site, and refurbishment of some existing facilities offered by the park. We are indebted to MARD, the staff of Bach Ma, and the provincial authorities of Thua-Thien Hué and Quang Nam provinces for their exceptional support.
Joint SWG, MARD and Bach Ma survey team at Bach Ma National Park, February 2017.
Coming soon: the world’s first permanent Annamite Mountains conservation education exhibit.
Steve Burns, director of Zoo Boise, in Boise, Idaho, USA, is a visionary and global leader in encouraging the world’s zoos to make conservation their core mission – and persuading them to back up that commitment with specific investment in conservation. Zoo Boise has led by example in several ways, including deployment of the zoo’s teenaged volunteers (ZooTeens) to raise funds for the SWG’s snare removal programs. Bolstered by the success of our partnership, and recognition of the high global importance of the forests in which Saola lives (important for many threatened species besides Saola), Zoo Boise has decided to take a next, major step: development at the zoo of the world’s first permanent exhibit on conservation of the Annamite Mountains. The exhibit will have multiple objectives: to educate zoo visitors about conservation issues in the Annamites, to encourage them to take supportive action, and to generate additional funding for the SWG’s field conservation programs. This is exciting news!
Earlier this month, I spent a day at the zoo, along with colleague and former SWG member Troy Hansel, brainstorming with senior zoo staff on what shape the exhibit could best take. Zoo Boise hopes to have the exhibit open to the public by the summer of 2019. We wish them well!
Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns (center, holding book), Troy Hansel (to Steve’s right), SWG Coordinator Bill Robichaud (to Troy’s right) and Zoo Boise senior management staff and advisors during strategy session at the zoo, March, 2017.
The book Steve Burns is holding in the above photo is a gorgeous new publication about the Saola’s home, Wonder of the Annamites. It was recently published by the conservation organization of SWG member Camille Coudrat, Project Anoulak, and was written and illustrated by Eric Losh. It’s a stunner! Copies can be ordered here:
http://www.wondersoftheannamites.com/ . Project Anoulak’s mission is to contribute to protection of Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area in Laos, and so your purchase will support conservation of Saola and other Annamites wildlife.
New SWG logo, website, and annual report
We are pleased to introduce a tweak to the SWG logo, since the last newsletter. The new version is intended to help communicate and remind us that Saola is a forest species, and that forest conservation will benefit Saola, and vice-versa. We are particularly grateful to artists and designers Cheryl Feng of San Francisco (http://cherylfengfineart.com/), Birgit Bach of Madison, Wisconsin (http://www.underthesunarts.com/), and SWG member (and creative soul) Dr. Camille Coudrat for their astute contributions to the design.
We have also launched a redesign of our website, thanks to the herculean efforts, talent, generosity and near-endless patience of Dominique Le Roux, of Moonshine Media (http://moonshinemedia.co.za/). The new version is still being tweaked, but you can check out the new look here: https://www.savethesaola.org/
Finally, I am happy to share our 2016 annual progress report, midwifed to final copy by the editing talents and conservation ‘heart’ of George Allez, and Lindsay Renick Mayer of our partner Global Wildlife Conservation. A copy can be downloaded here: http://www.savethesaola.org/resources/swg-annual-reports/ We owe many thanks to the SWG’s generous and faithful supporters for all we accomplished in the past year.
With best regards, and hopes this finds your own endeavors thriving,
Saola Working Group
IUCN SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group