In 2021 We started and made significant progress in the process of obtaining an Operation Permit in Lao PDR.  The permit will make the Saola Foundation a legal entity in the country, give us latitude to work widely there, and put down roots for a long and prosperous journey of support to conservation of the Annamite Mountains. Our Lao Programs Director, Chanthasone Phommachanh (“Olay”), has done fantastic work in shepherding the application process forward.

As part of the process, we are pleased to report that last week our President, Bill Robichaud, met with the Lao ambassador to the US, His Excellency Khamphan Anlavan. This was an important step, given that the Saola Foundation is registered in the US as a non-profit organization. They had a very productive meeting at the Lao embassy in Washington DC, during which Bill introduced the Saola Foundation and our goals, and Ambassador Khamphan responded with enthusiastic support for our mission, and pledged his full support. We look forward to staying in close contact with the ambassador and his staff.

 
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Establishing an official presence in Lao PDR

Bill Robichaud, met with the Lao ambassador to the US, His Excellency Khamphan Anlavan in December 2021. 

 

In December 2021, we formed a vital alliance with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Lao PDR Program. This partnership will enable our technical team to keep working on the ground while we apply for our own Operation Permit. This includes field searches for Saola signs, such as dung, and it will allow us to roll out other components of our technical strategy in Bolikhamxay Province in early 2022.  We are deeply grateful in particular to our friend and colleague, WCS’s Country Director in Lao PDR, Dr. Santi Saypanya.

 

Partnership with WCS

 
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Santi Saypanya of WCS, seated far right, and Olay, standing far right, at a 2021 strategy meeting about the Saola search program with officials and staff from Bolikhamxay Province.
Photo courtesy of WCS.

 
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Working Dogs for Conservation is the world’s leading conservation detection dog organization (www.wd4c.org).  They have partnered with the Saola Foundation to establish the first-ever national Lao detection dog team, which will be a crucial component of the Saola search. The dog team can also become a resource for other wildlife conservation efforts in the Annamites. Woof!

 

Developing detection dogs

 
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Some of the Working Dogs for Conservation team at work (in Cameroon). Photo courtesy of Working Dogs for Conservation.

 

In mid-2021 we established a partnership with the the Wildlife Conservation Society's Molecular Lab at the Bronx Zoo in New York, which resulted in the development of a Saola-specific, rapid field DNA test kit.  Kits will be ready for us to deploy in early 2022.  When our field teams or detection dogs find a likely Saola sign, the kit can return an identification within an hour. This will be a revolutionary advancement over waiting for months for a test result from a lab - and an absolute game-changer in the successful search for Saola.

 

Creating a field DNA test kit for Saola

 
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Photo courtesy of the WCS Molecular Lab

Establishment of a Saola Rapid Response Fund

 

In early 2021, With generous support from Opel Zoo and Zoo Boise, we established a reserve fund to be used by the Saola Foundation or our partners to quickly respond to an unexpected encounter with a Saola – either a convincing detection in the wild, or an animal found in captivity. Immediate, decisive action in such instances could be pivotal for saving some of the last Saolas.