Back to the Saola Nature Reserves

Xe Sap seems a distant memory now. Parts of it I remember clearly: I remember cresting a mountaintop and seeing the jungle-blanketed mountains, each leaf, millions of them, glistening green-gold in the early morning light. But other memories have become time-blurred: The intricate patterns in the traditional Katu clothing are little more than colorful abstractions: I can’t remember exactly how the geometric lines raced across the woman’s skirts, other than to say that the patterns made the eyes dazzle and dance. But all that is no matter. Xe Sap is the past—at least for the time being. I hope to return to Xe Sap in the future. But now my attention is back on Vietnam. For the next eight months I’ll be back in my old jungle stomping grounds: the Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves. The place is the same, but the research will be radically different. Instead of conducting intensive “find-a-saola surveys” in select areas, as I did two years ago, I’ll be working with a team to conduct general mammal surveys across the protected areas. Our goal is to systematically assess the mammalian biodiversity in these unexplored forests: there is no species-specific focus, but rather we seek to get a complete snapshot of what is left and where it is. We will be using two methods that should be long-familiar to my readers by now: camera-trapping and leech collection. Our teams will be made up of staff from the Saola Nature Reserves and WWF, headed by biologists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, where I am currently enrolled for my PhD (yes, I have now officially gone to zee Germans).

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with old friends. And more than anything I’m looking forward to spending time again in the rainforest: that diverse tangle of life where evolution has run amok. I think I could spend several lifetimes untangling its ecological secrets: the very thought makes me a wishful believer of reincarnation. The jungle is where I belong. And fuelling this passion, adding an immediacy to the work, is the knowledge that the jungles of central Vietnam are in dire need of further research and protection. There’s no doubt that decades of unmitigated poaching has extirpated many of the animals that made the forests of central Vietnam so unique, so special. Tigers, elephants, hog deer, Owston’s civet have been hunted out. In many ways these forests are biological shadow-lands, specters of their former state. But despite their relative emptiness, there is still enough left here—striped rabbits, dark muntjac, perhaps even the elusive Saola—that research and protection are top priorities. We must protect what is left and we must do it now. I look forward, in the coming year, to uncovering the biological treasures that still exist in this landscape, and take comfort in the idea that our research can move us one step closer to the conservation of these species. You may not realize it, reader, wherever you are, but if we let the last Saola or striped rabbits die off, the world will be irrevocably poorer: a little bleaker, like a photograph that is shade-by-shade morphing into a monochromatic negative of itself.

Sign showing the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve
Sign showing the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve
Arm patch of a Hue Saola Nature Reserve forest ranger
Hue Saola Nature Reserve logo

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3 thoughts on “Back to the Saola Nature Reserves”

  1. Glad you are still loving it all Andrew! Of all the students who joined me on my trips to the tropics you are the one making it a lifelong passion and vocation. I love hearing of all of your exploits.

  2. I think you will look back and be glad of your decision to be where you are and to get that PhD with “zee Germans”. It all provides a platform for you. Stay safe and enjoy.

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