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The Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is a large wild ox whose global range comprises only the Annamite Mountains of central Vietnam and Lao PDR (Laos). This unique animal, first described by scientists in 1993, was at one point thought to be related to goats, but recent research has identified it as a "primitive" member of the same evolutionary lineage as wild cattle.
Listed as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the 85 kg (200 lb) Saola has yet to be seen in the wild by researchers, and its global population is estimated at 250-300. The primary threat to Saola is hunting, chiefly from incidental by-catch in snares set for other animals, but also from professional hunters interested in the animal's horns as decorative objects. Little is known of the Saola's tracks and signs, distribution, abundance, habitat use, diet, behavior, and genetics. What information that does exist comes primarily from indigenous peoples living within its range. Since its description, the Saola has rapidly become a flagship species for Vietnamese biodiversity and conservation initiatives.
Because so little is known of the Saola's numbers and natural history, field-based research efforts are urgently needed to collect data on the species' distribution and behavior and to develop reliable methods for detecting and monitoring its presence.
Scientists from the CBC collaborated with World Wildlife Fund's Greater Mekong Programme and Vietnam's Forest Protection Department on the first and at the time only initiative researching and implementing Saola conservation measures. The work was carried out in the rugged, mountainous landscape lying along the border of central Vietnam's Quang Nam and Thua Thien-Hue provinces, an area recognized as the global priority landscape for Saola conservation.
Beginning in March of 2008, the project identified four areas with high probability of Saola living in them and implemented a six-month long camera-trapping initiative in these areas. Camera-trapping, the deployment of remotely-triggered flash cameras in areas difficult to access, has been effective in detecting the presence of secretive and rare mammals. This technique was particularly suitable for determining Saola distribution since there were no descriptions of tracks, dung, scrapings, or other markings and field signs that could be unequivocally attributed to Saola.
In late 2007 two new protected areas designed specifically to conserve Saola and their habitats were established in Quang Nam and Thua Thien-Hue provinces. These efforts will help to conserve not just the Saola but the globally significant plant and animal communities of the Annamite mountains. The Saola is part of a group of poorly known, endemic ungulates restricted to the Annamites, including the large-antlered muntjac (Muntiacus vuquangensis) and the Roosevelts' muntjac species complex (M. rooseveltorum, M. truongsonensis, and others). In addition to these large hoofed mammals, the Annamites support many endemic primates, birds, amphibians, orchids, and conifers, and the project benefited multiple other unique organisms that live in the central Annamites.
Learn more about our work in Mainland Southeast Asia.