HA NOI — An international working group dedicated to saving the sao la, a rare species of wild cattle in the mountains of Viet Nam and Laos, has warned of its possible extinction.
The sao la (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) resembles an antelope. Its prominent white facial markings and long tapering horns lend it a singular beauty, and its reclusive habits in the wet forests of the Truong Son Range an air of mystery.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species lists the sao la as critically endangered. Only discovered as a species in 1992, sao la have rarely been seen or photographed and have proven difficult to keep alive in captivity. None is held in any zoo in the world, and the wild population may number only in the dozens. The animal is threatened primarily by hunting.
Its extinction in the wild would mean its extinction everywhere, with no possibility of recovery or reintroduction.
The working group of the Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission, including forestry officials from both Laos and Viet Nam, Viet Nam’s Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Vinh University, and biologists and conservationists from non-governmental organisations, met recently in Vientiane to draw attention to the imminent loss of this species.
Experts from the Smithsonian Institute and Gilman Conservation International also joined in the meeting, during which participating agencies and organisations committed to take specific action over the next 12 months to significantly improve conservation of the species.
“We are at a point in history at which we still have a small but rapidly closing window of opportunity to conserve this extraordinary animal,” said William Robichaud, co-ordinator of the sao la working group and chair of the meeting. “That window has probably already closed for the kouprey, and the partners at this meeting are determined that the sao la not be next.”
The kouprey, a wild cattle species endemic to Indochina, may have slid quietly into extinction sometime in the last twenty years.
The group emphasised that sao la cannot be saved without intensified removal of poachers’ snares and the reduction of hunting with dogs in key areas of the animal’s range in the Truong Son mountains.
The experts attending the meeting agreed that sao la numbers appeared to have declined sharply and the species was dangerously approaching the point of disappearance. Its increasing proximity to extinction was in parallel to the threat faced by two or three other large mammals in Southeast Asia, such as the Java rhinoceros.
The working group highlighted the importance of improving methods to detect sao la in the wild, including radio tracking to understand the animal’s conservation needs, as well as heightened awareness in Laos, Viet Nam and within the world conservation community of the perilous status of the species.
Funding for the working group’s meeting in Laos came from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, with additional support from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s country office in Laos, BirdLife International in Indochina and Global Wildlife Conservation. — VNS