The World Wildlife Fund for Nature Vietnam, in cooperation with central provinces, recently launched a project to protect saola and other endemic hoofed mammals in the Truong Son Range.

The project is expected to be implemented from this year to 2012 to protect the saola population in southern Thua Thien-Hue and northern Quang Nam provinces. Funding has been provided by the UK ’s Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species.

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) live in remote valleys of the Truong Son Range along the border between Vietnam and Laos . Saola, along with two species of small deer, are incredibly are species that were discovered by scientists in the 1990’s.

With an already small population, unsustainable and uncontrolled hunting within the saola’s limited habitat has pushed the species to the brink of extinction. Currently, they are listed on the IUCN Red List as “critically endangered”, meaning the species faces an extremely high risk of extinction.

Conservation efforts to save the saola have faced numerous difficulties, including a lack of information about the effects hunting has on the population. One of the goals of this project is to engage in intensive research into this topic for further development of a conservation plan.

In addition to research, the project will work to strengthen capacity at leading colleges in the region. It will also influence on-the-ground community and government forest-management systems through cooperative efforts with WWF Vietnam, the Durrel Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent, the Agriculture Ministry’s Forest Protection Department (FPD), Vinh University and Hue University.

The project will improve capacity and curriculum at Vinh University so that graduates will have the necessary skills to engage in the research components of Vietnam and Laos ’s responsibilities to the project. Capacity building will include diversified biology instruction and training of both Lao and Vietnamese students with supervision from DICE.

“After working for so long, we finally have the funds to collect the information we need to help save this species. WWF has proven that people all around the world care about the saola, so I believe that now we will be able to get support for action as well,” Nicholas Wilkinson, project officer, said.

“Save the saola, it’s now or never. This is the message that WWF wants to convey to Vietnamese authorities, to the media and to the public. Saola protection involves all of us,” Tran Minh Hien, director of WWF Vietnam said.

Approximately 26,000 signatures to save the saola were handed over to the FDP by the WWF. The signatures were collected in over 150 countries, validating the huge efforts that have been made by conservationists to protect this rare species./.