Saola Foundation is a US-registered organisation devoted to saving saola and advancing conservation of the Annamite Mountains.
Saola is thought to be the world’s most endangered terrestrial mammal. It was last recorded by a camera trap in 2013, with no recorded sightings since, but although it is Critically Endangered and has been elusive for a long time, it is still believed that this animal exists in the wild.
This species resembles an antelope but is actually more closely related to wild cattle. It has distinctive white facial markings, and two straight horns and is therefore sometimes referred to as the Asian unicorn. Much of what is known about saola comes from local people, individuals once held in captivity, and a handful of camera trap photos. It is unique to the tropical evergreen forests of the Annamite Mountains in Lao PDR and Vietnam.
In order to save saola, the Saola Foundation’s first priority is to locate it again in the wild by conducting an unprecedented, thorough search of its potential habitat in the Annamite Mountains of Lao PDR.
They are forming an elite tracking team recruited from local communities and trained by expert trackers. The field program will be run by Lao Programs Director Chanthasone ‘Olay’ Phommachanh who is a local expert in wildlife trade, law enforcement and species monitoring. His responsibilities lie mainly in managing the complex network of in-country government and stakeholder relationships necessary for effective Saola conservation, and preparing for the Saola Foundation’s search for saola in Lao PDR.
Once the tracking team have located signs of saola, DNA analysis will be used to verify any samples such as dung, water, and leeches, and then detection dogs will be used for field searches by the tracking team.
The next step for Saola Foundation will be to work with the IUCN SSC Saola Working Group bringing individuals into captivity so a conservation breeding program can begin (the species greatest hope for recovery) which will eventually lead to reintroductions to the wild.