The biggest threat to the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), as identified by the Saola Working Group of the IUCN/SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, is intense levels of hunting, particularly through snaring, across its range. Despite occurring in a number of protected areas, no part of the species' range is effectively protected from hunting. The saola is not a target species in commercial trade, it has no value in traditional medicine, but is being driven to extinction largely as by-catch from hunting targeting other species through indiscriminate snaring. Without intensified conservation efforts the saola is certainly headed towards a Possibly Extinct status and, ultimately, to Extinct as defined by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Consequently the Saola Working Group identified improved protection at key sites for saola, particularly a reduction of snaring, as the top conservation priority for the species.
The project will provide continued funding for ongoing saola-focused law enforcement activities in Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves, Vietnam and the establishment, training, and operation of a forest guard team in eastern Xe Sap NPA, Laos. The project will add more than 3,000 patrolling days across the Saola conservation landscape. This will be implemented by SOS grantee, WWF Greater Mekong's Trans Boundary Carbon and Biodiversity (CarBi) Project.
Within each protected area, forest guards will patrol 16 days per month each in four teams of four people plus one Forest Protection Department ranger with powers of arrest. The main focus of patrols is the detection and removal of snares. This focused attention, according to the Saola Working Group of the IUCN/SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, addresses the most urgent action required for the conservation of the species.
Each team conducts fan-type patrols of an area over a period of seven days that radiate out from a base-camp. Patrols traverse through the forest to investigate areas and to detect and remove snares and camps. All offenders detected within key saola areas will be warned on the first occasion, fined on the second infringement or arrested on the third occasion. This novel approach to law enforcement has paid dividends. Since December 2010 the WWF forest guard programme has removed more than 30,000 snares from the Saola conservation landscape in Vietnam.
An immediate goal is effective saola law enforcement applied within each of Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam Saola Reserves, Vietnam, and Kaleum district, Xe Sap NPA, Lao PDR. Specific results include a minimum of two patrols per month within core saola areas, one patrol per month in areas identified as supporting saola and monthly MIST/SMART technology patrol reports provided to protected area managers.
Law enforcement activities are expected to minimise snaring to a level that ensures long-term saola persistence in the Hue-Quang Nam-Xe Sap landscape.
In addition to saola, the law enforcement approach used is likely to benefit a number of additional globally threatened species, resulting in an improvement of large ungulate occupancy, including Muntjac, Serrow and Wild Pig, in comparison with pre-project baseline figures.