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New Reserves for the Elusive Saola

Hoi An, Vietnam - Two new reserves have been created in Vietnam's rugged Annamite Mountains to protect the saola, one of the world's rarest animals.

The saola (pronounced: sow-la) was discovered just 15 years ago by a team of scientists from WWF and the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry. It was the first large mammal discovered anywhere in the world since 1936. Scientists are still trying to figure out whether the saola is a goat, antelope or cow species. Only eleven have ever been recorded alive and fewer than 250 are estimated to exist today.

The new reserves are the result of a saola conservation plan that was approved by the provincial People's Committees in Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces. The reserves are roughly the size of Yosemite National Park and form a continuous protected landscape stretching from the Vietnamese coast to Xe Sap National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Lao PDR. The saola is found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Lao PDR.

WWF works closely with government officials on saola conservation and has honored the Forest Protection Departments of Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam as well as Bach Ma National Park with a 'Leaders for a Living Planet' Award.

"The saola population in these provinces offers the best - if not the only - chance for this unique species to survive in Vietnam," said Dr. Barney Long, Central Truong Son Conservation Landscape Coordinator for WWF Greater Mekong - Vietnam Program.

Hunting is the main threat to the saola. Research conducted by WWF over the last year has indicated a rapid decline in saola numbers in the area since the wire snare-trap was introduced in the mid 1990s. Lines of hundreds of snares are set at a time.

Since 2001, WWF has worked in the saola's habitat as part of the Central Truong Son (Vietnamese for Annamites) Conservation Landscape Initiative. Over the last three years WWF has partnered with the provincial authorities (with funding from USAID, World Bank / Global Environmental Facility, USFWS, the MacArthur Foundation and many others) to secure the southern-most population of saola through a mixture of research, community-based forest management, training and support for rangers and strengthened law enforcement.

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