Zoos help save critically endangered Saola

Date: 2018/02/22


Global Wildlife Conservation Joins Zoos in Bankrolling Critical Saola Conservation Breeding Center


Zoos Worldwide Answer Call to Help Save Critically Endangered Saola

Global Wildlife Conservation Joins Zoos in Bankrolling Critical Saola Conservation Breeding Center



The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) and a number of its member zoos are working to save the elusive and critically endangered saola antelope. Although no zoo has ever cared for the saola antelope-and no biologist has ever seen one in the wild-zoos and affiliated organizations around the world have generously contributed or pledged more than $350,000 to support efforts that represent the last best hope to save the critically endangered species: a conservation breeding center.


WAZA, at its Annual Conference last year, made the decision to forgo the usual conference goody bags and instead donate US$5,000 to the saola fund, in lieu of the often wasteful conference staple. WAZA also set up an online fundraising campaign in December, to garner additional funds from supporters.


Doug Cress, WAZA Chief Executive Officer, said: "The saola is on the brink of extinction and the species' last hope is the group of zoos and zoo organizations working to save it from disappearing completely. As a conservation organization, our mission is to save species from extinction and we are fully committed to help save the saola."


"WAZA member zoos may not have saolas in their collections, but they understand the inherent value of this rare species and are demonstrating their clear commitment to wildlife conservation with their donations," said Bill Robichaud, coordinator of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Saola Working Group (SWG). "We are so grateful for the support from the zoo community, which recognizes that while the conservation breeding program is going to be risky, it's the only option left to ensure we don't lose this remarkable animal forever."


The saola was discovered by science in 1992 in the Annamite Mountain range on the border of Laos and Vietnam. Although the SWG partnership has made advances in the protection of saola habitat, commercial poaching remains a significant threat, and has the saola teetering on the edge of extinction. Probably fewer than 100 saolas survive in the wild. In partnership with the governments of Vietnam and Laos, the SWG will use the support from the zoo fundraising campaign for the establishment of a conservation breeding center, based in Vietnam, and to improve protection of forest areas in Vietnam and Laos for eventual re-introduction of saola.


To date, 13 North American zoos and affiliated organizations have given or pledged a total of $97,500 USD to the campaign, while 11 European zoos and affiliated organizations have so far given or pledged $272,795 USD. Global Wildlife Conservation, the host and close partner of the SWG, is matching the first $250,000 raised.


"Zoos have been some of the greatest supporters of saola conservation over the years," said Barney Long, GWC's director of species conservation and chair of the Saola Working Group Steering Committee. "The current effort presents the last good opportunity to save the saola from extinction and zoos are a critical part of this effort, not just from a fundraising point of view, but also from a technical point of view. They bring the expertise and knowledge we'll need to capture, transport, care for, and breed these animals safely and effectively."


Since the species' discovery, only about 10 saola have been captured from the wild, all caught by local villagers in Laos and Vietnam. Without professional veterinary and husbandry care, the longest that any of the animals lived was a few months. The last saola known to have been captured was in 2010 in Laos.

Biologists have also only photographed the species five times in the wild since its discovery, all by camera traps-twice in Laos and three times in Vietnam. The most recent camera trap photos were taken in 2013, when a WWF camera trap caught images of an animal in the Quang Nam Saola Reserve in central Vietnam. It was the first photo of a saola in the wild in more than 15 years. Saolas are difficult to detect because of their rarity and elusiveness, which has earned them the nickname Asian "unicorn," and because they live in dense forest in remote and difficult terrain.


Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in technical partnership with the SWG, has selected Vietnam's Bach Ma National Park as the site for the world's first saola breeding center. The Bach Ma center is due to start construction in early 2018.


Editor's note: Institutions that want to be a part of these efforts should contact Jeff Holland (j.holland@cctu.biz), coordinator of the fundraising campaign in the Americas, or Douglas Richardson (drichardson@rzss.org.uk), coordinator of the fundraising campaign in Europe.


Saola Working Group
The Saola Working Group works collaboratively to conserve saola in nature, and to leverage saola as a flagship for conservation of the bio-cultural diversity of the Annamite Mountains as a whole. The Saola Working Group is part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group. The SWG was formed in 2006 in recognition of the need for urgent, focused and coordinated action to save saola from extinction. Learn more at https://www.savethesaola.org/


Global Wildlife Conservation
GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at http://globalwildlife.org


World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
WAZA is the global alliance of nearly 400 leading zoos and aquariums in over 50 countries. For more, visit www.waza.org

Media Contact
Gavrielle Kirk-Cohen
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums


Lindsay Renick Mayer
Global Wildlife Conservation


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