SOS grantee, the Wildlife Conservation Society's Lao PDR programme is teaming up with local government and communities to conserve the Saola, one of the world's rarest animals, in the unique forests of the Phou Sithone Endangered Species Conservation Area (ESCA).
By far the greatest immediate threat to the survival of the saola is unregulated illegal hunting mainly by way of tens of thousands of snares. The loss of habitat is also a challenge for long term saola conservation. Increasing populations in local communities rely on agricultural practices that require more forest to be cleared in and adjacent to forest reserves designated as habitat for critically endangered species.
These two threats are compounded by lack of awareness and understanding of national laws and local regulations which were developed to minimize threats to this 'one of a kind' species.
This project builds on WCS Lao PDR's work over the last few years conducting saola surveys and working with local government and communities to strengthen the protection of saola and improve management of the Phou Sithone ESCA.
This project will provide direct support to forest rangers and significantly improve the effectiveness of patrols to reduce the killing of saola and destruction of habitat in the Phou Sithone ESCA. The project will also assist communities to conduct land use planning which will clarify and demarcate lands for human use and those that are for wildlife conservation.
The team will also increase awareness of local laws and the status of the species by conducting community awareness campaigns that use innovative methods including theatre and role play.
The objectives of this project in Phou Sithone ESCA are threefold. These include no killing of Saola and significant reduction in the number of snares detected, reduced destruction of habitat, and increased support for the conservation of Saola in village surrounding the conservation area.
The project team will measure the performance of patrol teams by assessing their effort and results using advanced law enforcement monitoring known as SMART. Already teams have removed over 7,000 snares from the conservation area.
In the long term the grantee ultimately aims to increase the number of Saola individuals in the conservation area. However monitoring this outcome is a challenge as Saolas are notoriously difficult to detect and previous methods have proven ineffective. That being said, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working with partners to develop and test new methods of detection, including the search for traces of Saola DNA in the blood of leeches in the forest.
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