Posts by Saola Foundation:
Dear Friends of Saola,
We are thrilled to share news of some significant developments in our mission to help find and save the Saola.
Introducing the Saola Gold Partnership, and a major new supporter
The staff and Board of Directors of the Saola Foundation have given great consideration to meaningful and impactful ways to attract the much-needed funds to find and save the Saola. To that end, we are delighted to introduce a new initiative, one that will recognize and give something back to our most generous donors: the Saola Gold Partnership. The Saola Gold Partnership is a group of supporters who each commit a minimum of 50,000 US$ or euros over one year to our Saola search program. Membership comes with some special benefits, which you can learn about here. Our goal is to recruit at least 20 members into the Saola Gold Partnership, to collaboratively generate $1 million for the Saola search effort.
As we roll out the Saola Gold Partnership, we are delighted to announce its first three members: Beauval Nature (https://www.beauvalnature.org/en/), Synchronicity Earth (https://www.synchronicityearth.org/), and the Saola Foundation’s newest major donor, the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation (LCAOF; https://www.lcaof.org/). Last week, LCAOF informed us of their decision to contribute $100,000 to the Saola search and our efforts to protect the Annamites. Thank you, LCAOF!! And welcome and deep thanks to the other two ‘first responders’ of the Saola Gold Partnership.
Welcome to a new board member
We are honored and excited to announce that Dr. Frank Hawkins has joined the Saola Foundation’s Board of Directors, effective August 1. Dr. Hawkins is a distinguished conservation leader, with decades of experience working with governments, finance institutions, civil society and local communities around the world. He has served as Senior Vice-President of Conservation International, and led CI’s programme in Africa and Madagascar, during which time he launched the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability. Until August 2021, Dr. Hawkins was Director of the IUCN North America office, and is now a policy and finance advisor to IUCN. He focuses on the use of natural capital data in investment decision-making, and on bringing the conservation and finance communities together to drive change in international conservation. He was instrumental in creating the Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation and in developing the Species Threat Abatement and Restoration biodiversity metric.
Dr. Hawkins is passionate about the Saola Foundation’s mission, and we and Saola are immensely fortunate to have his talents and experience added to our efforts. He replaces Phoutsakhone Ounchith on our board, who stepped down to focus on her new life and career in Australia. We are so very grateful for her contributions during her tenure, and she has promised to stay close!
Leading by example
Speaking of our board, we would like to express deep gratitude to the board for leading by example with their financial donations to the Saola Foundation. Thus far in 2022, the six members of the Saola Foundation’s board have collectively donated more than $25,000 of their personal funds to the Saola search (led by Board Chair Steve Burns, with a donation of $15,000), with additional donations from members of our Advisory Council. They have led with the kind of commitment that puts saving Saola within reach. We are deeply grateful to them – and hope you will follow their lead.
Introducing a new partner!
The Askari Project (https://www.theaskariproject.org/) is an initiative that focuses mainly on elephant conservation. However, they support the conservation of other species as well, by selling some fantastic, custom-designed merchandise, from which 100% of the sale profits go to that species. We are thrilled to announce that the Askari Project has partnered with the Saola Foundation, and has just launched an entire line of Saola and Saola Foundation merch! The Askari Project uses a cutting-edge distribution system that minimizes fossil fuel consumption, and so they can ship their products all over the world at low cost to both you and the environment. Check out the Saola items here!
Please consider ordering some things for you and/or your loved ones – including Saola. And again, from each sale, a lot of dollars, not just a few pennies or pence, will go to the Saola Foundation for the Saola search.
We are most grateful to Glenn Sullivan of Taronga Zoo in Australia for connecting us with the Askari Project (and to our friend Terry Hornsey for connecting us with Glenn!).
Next month the entire senior team of the Saola Foundation – CEO Lorraine Scotson, President Bill Robichaud and Technical Director Rob Timmins – will rendezvous in Lao. This will be the first opportunity for any of them to travel to Lao since the pandemic unfolded. Exciting time! High on the agenda will be coordination meetings with our Lao government and NGO partners, and working with our Lao Programs Director, Olay, to finalize selection of the local village members of the Saola search team. Thanks to the faith and support of so many of you, we are very close to getting the integrated search team into the field. Our Saola Foundation crew will work vigorously on the final steps together in Lao – in addition to vigorously attending Olay’s wedding in Vientiane on November 6!
Watch in the coming weeks for the team’s updates from Lao.
Keep calm, do a bit of Askari shopping, and help find Saola. Thank you!!
The Saola Foundation Team
Dear Friends of Saola,
July 9 marks World Saola Day! On this occasion, we send our best wishes, and sincere thanks for all your support. We have some good news to share to mark the day, and we also ask your help.
We’ve made outstanding progress in the less than two years since we launched the Saola Foundation. We’re now close to finishing the assembly of an elite Saola detection team. This will be unlike any wildlife search team ever fielded in Southeast Asia – integrating sign detection dogs, rapid DNA field-testing, and expert human trackers. The team will have wide value for efforts to conserve endangered wildlife well beyond Saola.
We anticipate the team beginning field trials in Lao in the next few months. Once the team is in the field, it will be crucial, for the best chance of finding and saving Saola, that we have enough resources available to keep them in the field and well-supported, without interruption. To celebrate World Saola Day, can you help us get there? Every donation is important at this key stage of the project. Thank you!
If you’d like to consider supporting a specific component of this exciting search on a sustaining basis, such as sponsoring a detection dog, or providing salary support for one of the local wildlife trackers, please get in touch with CEO Dr. Lorraine Scotson at email@example.com, or President Bill Robichaud at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In celebration of World Saola Day, we are pleased to announce that this Saturday, July 9, we will launch the Saola Foundation’s new Facebook page (@savesaola), and new Instagram account (@saola_foundation). Log in to see our first posts, information, and fun! We are grateful to ASAP, the Asian Species Action Partnership, for their collaboration on this.
Please help spread the word about Saola by adding your own post for World Saola Day, and/or liking and sharing our content. Let’s grow the Saola conservation community. Video and text instructions for making your own Saola post can be found here.
Finally, we are delighted to introduce a new member of our team, Lulu Deng.
Lulu will help with communications and grants management. In addition to such skills, her interests include including acting, climbing, and, appropriately, zoology! She brings to the Saola Foundation a keen eye for detail and big dash of creativity. Welcome, Lulu!
Saving Saola is a remarkable, important undertaking, and we’ll get it done, working together.
Happy World Saola Day!
The Saola Foundation Team
Conservation news from Asia is often bleak, with many species already in severe decline and others facing new threats. Biodiversity everywhere on the continent is disappearing fast. So why focus on a single species (Saola) in a single small region (the Annamite Mountains)? What – besides the name – is the logic behind the Saola Foundation’s choice?
Although it’s not a pleasant thought, we live in an age where it has become apparent that we can’t save everything. Extremely tough decisions must be made in the conservation world. But as difficult as such choices are, procrastination is not an option. The natural world deserves our dedication to making these choices well.
While the Annamites are not the most biodiverse region in the world (a title that would perhaps go to the rainforests of Sumatra or a site in South America), they are in a class of distinction when it comes to both endemism and richness. Unfortunately, the threats that face nature in the Annamites are also infamously great in both their breadth and intensity. This region may be the place within Asia where the point of intersection between all of these metrics is highest. Therefore, although no region is safe from harm, it would be hard to find another region in such dire need of help.
In fact, there is more at stake here than almost anywhere else in the world. We at the Saola Foundation feel justified in saying that the Annamite Mountains are one of the highest global conservation priorities. Irreplaceable biodiversity in the Annamites is in acute trouble. We need to make choices to save as much as we possibly can, before it’s too late.
With that in mind, how do we start to prioritize and make decisions? It boils down to the answers to three questions: what is irreplaceable, what is in the most need, and where can we be the most effective and the most certain of a positive outcome. This narrows the field considerably. A clear answer, and thus a clear priority, is the Saola.
For most life on Earth, extinction will be forever. Resurrection may be possible for some species in the future, but not for all. While it’s hard to argue that one species is more deserving of protection than another, the Saola is a frontrunner.
This species has a lot going for it, including its evolutionary distinctiveness and the fact that it represents an ancestral form or “missing link” in the bovid family tree. In appearance, the Saola has more in common with its extinct ancestors than its living descendents. It is not just another wild ox, in the way that a Tiger is another big cat or a White-cheeked Gibbon is another gibbon. And it’s hard to deny that the Saola’s graceful appearance also accords with humanity’s preferences for beauty; although I believe beauty is everywhere in nature.
Other, highly threatened non-endemic large mammals in the Annamites have a greater “safety net” because they also occur in other regions. The Gaur has more secure populations in India, and the two species of pangolins found in the Annamites have much larger global distributions. If they were ever to be extirpated in the Annamites, there would still be a chance to conserve them elsewhere. This is also the case with the two species of rhino that the region has lost. But for Annamite endemics like the Saola, there are no other options. If we lose them, then they will likely be gone for good. The Saola truly is irreplaceable and on the precipice of extinction.
Of course, it may share the precipice with a handful of species; for instance, there could be an endemic terrestrial leech in peril as a result of the loss of Annamite megafauna. But besides its large mammals and birds, we know shockingly little about most of the biodiversity of the Annamites. It’s safe to say, however, that the Saola must be one of the most threatened Annamite endemics.
For one, large mammals have a tendency to be at a heightened risk relative to other species. They need bigger areas to survive than the majority of other living creatures – a definite disadvantage, especially when natural resource exploitation occurs within their habitat.
How do we weigh our chances of success if we prioritise the Saola? What factors should we use to define success? In the absence of a crystal ball, we can at least predict where we can be successful in the next few years. We have knowledge of trends spanning several decades, and we know through experience what has worked and what has not. We can be reasonably confident in these predictions. But unfortunately, short-term gains are often ephemeral. It’s important that we consider long-term strategies and outcomes now to make our short-term strategies more resilient.
So why is investing in Saola the best bet for maximising long-term conservation gains in the Annamites? We can’t be certain that the Saola can be saved from extinction, and there is some risk involved. What we do know is that the benefits will outweigh the risk, even if we are not successful in saving the Saola. Our project will create the foundation required for achieving the long-term conservation gains that are so badly needed.
Saving the species in the Annamites that is closest to extinction would demonstrate that conservation gains can indeed be made there. And the unprecedented effort, resources, and expertise required to save the Saola will also be needed to save countless other species. If the Saola cannot be saved, it will be because we were too late in trying. But in trying, we will have substantially raised the bar for Annamites conservation. We will have set the pieces in place to conserve irreplaceable biodiversity.
Conservation in the Indochinese region is already on a slippery slope, as is true in countless places. It is our task to stop the slippage and set new, encouraging precedents. Focusing on the Saola allows us to optimise conservation gains. Saola is not the endgame; our sights are focused on the fragile (and perhaps untold) richness that makes the Annamites so special. We are working from a vision that spans decades. And as our team begins to carry out our strategy, we will make the difficult decisions with both passion and scientific confidence. We hope you’ll continue to support us on this journey, and become an advocate yourself for the incomparable Annamite Mountains.
Dear Friends of Saola,
Last week The Ellen Fund, the wildlife conservation charity of entertainer Ellen DeGeneres, highlighted the Saola Foundation and our Lao Programs Manager, Olay, in a video they produced and posted to their Instagram account (@theellenfund). Check it out here!
Welcome to a new member of our Advisory Council
We are delighted to announce a valuable new addition to the Saola Foundation’s Advisory Council, Eric Barrão Ruivo. Eric hails from Lisbon, Portugal (he is a former director of the Lisbon Zoo), and currently lives and works in France.
He wears multiple senior hats in conservation, particularly with partners in Europe. Among other things, he is Executive Director of Beauval Nature; the Director of Science, Collections and Conservation at ZooParc de Beauval; and Chair of the Conservation Committee of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.
Eric has been a faithful and committed supporter of Saola conservation for several years.
We and Saola are fortunate to have him on board.
Afield with our partners
Successful Saola conservation, while challenging, is possible with deep collaboration. Consequently, we are pleased to share news of some accomplishments that have come through our partnerships. By collaborating with other organizations on the ground in Lao PDR, we have both advanced our knowledge and ramped up preparations for the intensive Saola search.
First, in cooperation with the Lao Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the IUCN Saola Working Group (SWG), the Saola Foundation provided training and technical oversight for a hunter-led search for Saola dung in Lao. Olay, our Lao Programs Director, led the implementation of this project while our SWG partners did the same in Vietnam. The Saola Foundation has also provided co-funding for a grant from the Prince Bernhard Nature Fund to the SWG, the major funding source for this project.
Through this work, local naturalists in two villages in Bolikhamxay province were trained to lead searches for Saola dung in their traditional forest areas. The project provided them with dung collection kits and smartphones with a pre-loaded app to take geo-tagged photos of any evidence found. To date, the Bolikhamxay teams have collected two dung samples of interest. The samples will be analyzed by the genetics lab at Vinh University in Vietnam, pending approval of requisite export permits by the Lao government.
Possible Saola track photograhed by one of the village cooperators. Photo courtesy of PAFO/DAFO of Bolikhamxay/IEWMP/WCS/SWG/PBNF/Saola Foundation.
Olay (right) delivering dung collection kits to a village cooperator. Photo courtesy of PAFO/DAFO of Bolikhamxay/IEWMP/WCS/SWG/PBNF/Saola Foundation.
And the search continues! Although the funding period of the original grant for the project has ended, the Saola Foundation, with your support, will continue to fund the dung search efforts while preparing to launch a more intensive search later this year.
Second, shortly after the Saola Foundation launched operations in September 2020, we partnered in a project with the organization Asian Arks, the Integrated Conservation of Biodiversity and Forests (ICBF) project in Lao, and the SWG, through a grant from the National Geographic Society to the SWG (administered by Asian Arks) and a grant from the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) to the Saola Foundation’s Research Associate, Minh Nguyen, and her research team.
Starting in October 2020, our newly formed Technical Team of Olay and Rob Timmins provided technical support to implement camera-trap studies in a key area in Lao PDR for Saola conservation, Khoun Xe-Nong Ma National Protected Area. This continued the technical oversight of research activities at the site that both had been conducting since 2017. Rob and Olay guided an integrated team of Asian Arks researchers and ICBF- supported protected area staff and villagers, with technical and logistical support from WCS-Lao, to deploy camera traps in the Khoun Xe-Nong Ma between December 2020 and April 2021.
Minh, in conjunction with Rob, designed and employed a highly innovative camera trap placement technique, based on setting up ‘pseudo snare lines’. With local village cooperators, they built brush snare fences, and in gaps along the fences where a poacher would normally put a wire snare, they placed camera traps. They used 305 cameras to monitor 102 openings in the snare fences. The results of Minh’s work will help inform conservation efforts for all species threatened in the region by snaring.
Within Lao PDR, Khoun Xe-Nong Ma holds some of the highest value in terms of biodiversity. Thanks to the efforts of the ICBF Project (active in Khoun Xe-Nong Ma since 2015), Khoun Xe-Nong Ma has benefited from an updated and approved management plan for 2020-25, support to activities and investments at the site, and an extension to the area. Likewise, joint efforts of Asian Arks, ICBF ranger patrol teams and WCS Lao has led to significant levels of law enforcement within the core area and other parts of the controlled use zone respectively.
The program of research including the latest project has further emphasized the conservation significance of Khoun Xe-Nong Ma, helping with significant support from the ICBF Project to raise its status from a Provincial Protected Area to a National Protected Area. Observations from the work in Khoun Xe-Nong Ma also provided scientific guidance for the IUCN’s recent position statement on Saola (August 2021) [https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/position-statement-saola.pdf].
Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of Rob, the SWG and Asian Arks, the photos that were obtained have been added to a collection of over 2 million images for the Microsoft MegaDetector project (https://lila.science/datasets/swg-camera-traps; see also https://github.com/microsoft/CameraTraps/blob/main/megadetector.md).
The project will help develop and train artificial intelligence to automate the identification and analysis of camera-trap images.
All of these results and tools are informing the Saola Foundation’s intensive Saola search strategy. We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with these many partners – such collaborative and integrated efforts, and sharing of expertise and resources, will help us better protect the species we all treasure.
Camera trap set to watch an opening in a pseudo snare line. Photo courtesy of PAFO/DAFO of Khammouane Province/DOF/ NGS/CLP/Asian Arks.
Camera trapping team in Khoun Xe Nong Ma National Protected Area. Photo by Chanthasone Phommachanh.
Learning more about the enigmatic Large-antlered Muntjac is a passion of the Saola Foundation’s new Research Associate, Nguyễn Thị Ánh Minh.
Born and raised in southern Vietnam in a small town close to the Annamites, Minh is now pursuing her PhD at Colorado State University in the US, with field research focused on Large-antlered Muntjac and its conservation.
Please join us on Saturday, April 30 2022, for her live presentation, “Large-antlered Muntjac, the species of my hope”. This will be the final presentation of our 2021/2022 live webinar season. Minh is a remarkable young conservation biologist, and her talk is sure to be both inspiring and informative.
Time & Location
Apr 30, 10:00 AM CDT
United States & Canada:
Pacific: 8:30 am
Mountain: 9:30 am
Central: 10:30 am
Eastern: 11:30 am
United Kingdom (GMT+1): 16:30
most of continental Europe: 17:30
Dear Friends of Saola,
The Annamite Mountains are a very special place, not least of which because the area’s cultural diversity is as extraordinary as its biological diversity. Linguistic anthropologist James Chamberlain has been studying the indigenous cultures of Lao for more than 50 years. In the 1990s, when biologists were discovering new species in the Annamites, such as the Saola, Dr. Chamberlain was describing previously unknown languages and ethnic groups there. He describes the Annamites as “an area of linguistic and cultural mega-diversity”.
Please join us on Saturday, March 19 for a fascinating, live webinar with Dr. Chamberlain, “Peoples of the Annamites: Multiple Versions of the Same Place.” He will speak to us from his home in Vientiane, Lao PDR, and give us a glimpse into the one of the most linguistically diverse places on Earth, and the relationships these diverse peoples have with the natural world around them. In fact, most of what we know about Saola has come from local people in the animal’s range, and they are essential partners in its conservation.
Time & Location
Mar 19, 9:00 AM CDT
United States & Canada:
Pacific: 8:30 am
Mountain: 9:30 am
Central: 10:30 am
Eastern: 11:30 am
United Kingdom (GMT+1): 16:30
most of continental Europe: 17:30
Saola Tracks #12: Welcome to New Members Our Team! And Please Join Us This Saturday for Our Next Live Webinar, Peoples of the Annamites
Dear Friends of Saola,
As the Saola Foundation continues to ramp up our activity to help save Saola (and its home of the Annamite Mountains), with your support we have added to our team, after thorough searches, some outstanding new members. We are most pleased to let them introduce themselves to you:
Xaisavanh Khiewvongphachan (“Xai”); Field Coordinator
My background is in Graphic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing. I have almost ten years of experience supporting conservation programs in Lao PDR – including wildlife surveys, wildlife habitat assessment, analysis of land cover change, and land-use planning.
I am very proud to join the Saola Foundation, and to contribute to an intensive search for Saola, and help protect other rare, beautiful animals in the Annamite Mountains. It is because I love working for conservation. The Saola Foundation is highly committed to help save Saola along with developing the progressive search methods in Lao PDR. Its work and its great team of conservation experts with many years of experience have inspired me with this great opportunity. I will learn new skills in field search and help find Saola and save it from extinction and conserve the important biodiversity that still exists in my home of Lao PDR.
Briony Black; Grants Assistant (part-time)
I’m based in England and have had a passion for natural environment and wildlife for as long as I can remember, so it’s important to me to be in a role where I can contribute to the conservation of a rare species such as Saola. I have an undergraduate degree in Conservation Biology and am currently completing a postgraduate degree in Environmental Consultancy.
I’ve worked in the environmental charity sector for more than three years, focused on supporter engagement, science communication and fundraising management. It’s exciting to use these skills now for such an important cause as Saola. In my spare time you can usually find me outdoors either running, walking my border collie or swimming in the sea (when it’s not winter here!). I’m thrilled to have joined such an amazing organization with incredibly passionate colleagues, especially as we embark on the next stage and begin the search for Saola in the wild.
Sounutda Maniphonh (“Pookie”); Administrative Assistant
I was born and grew up in Bolikhamxay Province (one of the home areas of Saola), and I now live in Vientiane. I graduated with a degree in Economic and Business Administration from the National University of Laos. After graduation I worked for the National Center for Statistics, and also worked as a volunteer intern in my home province, in the Bolikhamxay Agriculture and Forestry Office, assisting with financial management.
I feel inspiration to help protect Saola and other wildlife in Lao, because Lao is full of natural resources and wildlife. I would like to help conserve them for the next generation to know and see, and help the younger generation understand how important Saola and other wildlife in our region are. Although I am just a junior Admin Assistant, I am full of love and passion for the work of the Saola Foundation, and ready to do my best to help save Saola and support the field technical teams to do that.
Minh Nguyen; Research Associate
My entire life I have been inspired by nature and have been driven to conserve Earth’s imperiled species. I was born at the edge of the Annamite Mountains in Vietnam, yet knew little of their high diversity and endemism as I grew up, including Saola. Yet as I learned more I realized that Saola and the Annamites urgently needed my and many other people’s devotion. I want to become a field-based conservation scientist to address the existential threats facing the Annamites. Through my field research, I intend to provide a voice for Saola, Large-antlered Muntjac, and the many other threatened species endemic to the region. I want my work to expose to the world the importance of Annamite ecosystems and, most importantly, how we may save them. My current research, for my PhD through Colorado State University, focuses on addressing the snaring crisis, which is dramatically affecting Large-antlered Muntjac and also threatens the
survival of Saola.
Saturday, March 19: “Peoples of the Annamites: Multiple Versions of the Same Place.”
Please join us on Saturday as Dr. James Chamberlain connects live from his
home in Vientiane, Lao PDR, to give us an anthropologist’s view of one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth, the Annamite Mountains. He’ll describe links between the area’s rich cultural diversity and its rich biodiversity – and how each can help save the other.
The webinar is free, but registration is required, which you can do here. Please see below for your local time for Dr. Chamberlain’s fascinating presentation. Hope to see you there!
“Peoples of the Annamites: Multiple Versions of the Same Place”, March 19, 2022:
07:00 am PDST U.S.
08:00 am MDST U.S
09:00 am CDST U.S.
10:00 am EDST U.S.
15:00 most of continental Europe