Saola sighted!

For the first time in over 15 years the Saola has been camera trapped in the wild. It is only the second time the species has been photographed in Vietnam and the first time it has been photographed in the central part of the country. The importance of this picture cannot be overstated: it is definitive proof that one of the rarest mammals on the planet survives in the Central Annamites. Biologists have long suspected that the species clings to survival in isolated pockets of forest in the area but until now this hope had been maintained by a handful of villager sightings and possible footprints. Now we have proof. This off-center black and white picture shows that at least one Saola has beaten the odds.

Saola camera trapped in November 2013
Saola camera trapped in November 2013; copyright WWF / CarBi program

In 2011 the government of Vietnam set up two Saola Nature Reserves in the Central Annamites. At the time, biologists were not sure how many Saola remained in the area—or even if there were any left. Locals reported sporadic sightings of the animal, but it is easy to confuse the Saola with its evolutionary cousin, the serow. Many people had given up hope that this remarkable animal still existed in an area that is increasingly surrounded by a sea of humanity. These forest tracts experience considerable hunting pressure. Last year WWF began intensive camera trapping to try to document the species in the Central Annamites landscape. It is because of their efforts that we now have the wildlife photo of the century. The fact that the Saola still roams the dark jungles of central Vietnam is due in large part to the incredible dedication of the WWF Forest Guard teams. According to Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh, WWF Vietnam’s country directory, since 2011 these anti-poaching patrols have removed more than 30,000 snares and destroyed over 600 illegal hunting camps. Given the conditions they work in this is a mind-boggling feat. For the past two months I have accompanied the Forest Guards in both Saola Nature Reserves. Trust me when I say that the jungle here is nothing short of a green hell. I am constantly amazed at the commitment, perseverance, and bravery that these individuals show. Without their protection I don’t think this Saola would have been photographed. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Congratulations to everyone who have been involved in Saola conservation since the animal was discovered by science a mere twenty years ago. The new photograph renews hope for the recovery of this unique species.

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