The saola is not extinct. As part of a project being carried out by the International Climate Initiative (IKI), a camera trap set up in the Vietnamese rainforest by the nature conservation organisation WWF has secured the first sighting of the rare Asian forest-dwelling bovine mammal in 14 years. The saola was first discovered in 1992.
'When we first saw the photos, we could hardly believe our eyes. The saola is something of a holy grail for conservationists working in South-East Asia,' says Stefan Ziegler, WWF's coordinator for the region. Even today, extremely little is known about the animal's behaviour or the size of the remaining population. According to Ziegler, the rediscovery is a very positive sign for the future of this critically endangered species.
WWF is working together with a team of biologists to gain a more accurate picture of the saola's habits and the strength of the population, with the objective of developing better protection measures. 'Optimistic estimates put the global saola population at several hundred, but it may be that only a few individuals remain,' says Ziegler. The research project, which is being carried out jointly with Vietnamese forestry authorities, forms part of an IKI project that aims to preserve the forests of South-East Asia not only as important carbon sinks but also as essential habitat for a wide range of species, some of which are very rare. The project is being carried out by KfW in cooperation with WWF, and has received 7 million euros in funding from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) since 2011.
The saola's range stretches across the Annamese Mountains that straddle the border between Laos and Vietnam. According to WWF, illegal logging represents the greatest threat to the animal's habitat on the Lao side of the border, while illegal hunting remains a serious issue on the Vietnamese side. In an effort to save the saola from extinction, a network of protected areas and corridors has been established, partly using IKI funds. The camera traps have been set up as part of a monitoring system that has been introduced in this context. This system is helping to ensure the effective management of protected areas and to make trade in wood from Vietnam and Laos more transparent.