Wild Saola camera trap photo

Rare and Elusive Wild Cattle Species

On the border of Laos and Vietnam roams a creature so elusive that it has never been seen in the wild by a biologist. Researchers discovered the Saola in 1992, by coming across the skull of a Saola in a hunter’s house in a remote village in Vietnam. The unusual horns tipped the scientists off: they had found evidence of an entirely new species, which spurred conservationists to action. This Critically Endangered species lives in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, where their biggest threat is hunting—they get caught in the snares set out for other animals. GWC supports and works alongside the Saola Working Group (SWG) and other local partners to conserve the Saola and its habitat.

Captive Saola photo

Captive female Saola, Lak Xao, Boikhamxay Province, Laos, 1996.
(Photo by William Robichaud)

Wild Facts
The Saola was discovered by science in 1992.
The Saola has never been seen in the wild by a biologist.
The global population is estimated to be as few as 20 individuals.

Saving the Saola

GWC partners with the Saola Working Group to apply the IUCN One Plan Approach to advance Saola conservation, both immediately and in the long term. The One Plan Approach recognizes that for a highly endangered species, conservation breeding (ex situ) and conservation of the species in the wild (in situ) need to be integrated into one conservation program.

Protection of Saola in Nature

We are working to conserve Saola in the wild and to protect its habitat in the Annamite Mountains by securing areas for eventual Saola reintroductions.

Additionally, GWC and partners aim for zero loss of the Saola, which means our goal is to prevent poaching of any Saola (and other animals) in our target areas—a lofty goal. One indicator is the presence or absence of snares, which are set on the forest floor, targeting any large animals walking by. We aim for zero snares in our intensively patrolled areas, which are areas that we have identified as being key for rare species such as the Saola, Large-antlered Muntjac, and others, where the loss of any individuals could be drastic for the long-term persistence of the species.

Snares in central Vietnam. (Photo by Andrew Tilker)

Snares in central Vietnam. (Photo by Andrew Tilker)

Conservation Breeding

For a highly threatened species like the Saola, it is imperative to begin conservation breeding while there is still time for it to be successful and supportive of the species’ survival. The governments of Vietnam and Laos have agreed to work together on a Saola conservation breeding program. By their joint consent, the world’s first Saola conservation breeding center will be established at Vietnam’s Bach Ma National Park, where it will be managed by the Wroclaw Zoo. 

And so while the upcoming conservation breeding plans for Saola are very much focused on bringing that species back from the brink, it is also about much more than a single species, because saving the Saola will have cascading conservation effects for both the other endemic species that make this region so special.

Capacity and Partnership Building

We help build capacity and mentor national conservation leaders and biologists in Vietnam and Laos to ensure long-term conservation within the Annamites.

While the Saola is one of the most distinctive and endangered large mammals in the world, comparatively few people are aware of the animal and the urgency of its conservation. We are working to develop partnerships and raise international attention of this species.

(Photo by Andrew Tilker)

Top photo: Wild Saola camera-trapped in central Laos (Bolikhamxay Province) in 1999. (Courtesy of William Robichaud)

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