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.