Earlier this month William Robichaud gave an interview to Mongabay.com about his work into the research and conservation of the endangered saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis). The saola is an ungulate found only in the forest of Laos and Vietnam and its late discovery by biologists in 1992 is a testament to its quiet and solitary habits. Very little is known about the population size or behaviour of the saola and those few individuals that have been caught and taken into captivity for closer observation have quickly died.
William Robichaud has been living in Laos for the past 15 years and his interest in the Saola was first ignited when he read a newspaper article in the Bangkok Times about the discovery of a new bovine species in Vietnam. He now champions the conservation of the saola and has been lucky enough to observe this shy creature first hand in what must have been a very emotional experience.
In January 1996 Hmong villages captured a saola in response to a cash reward offered by a general in central Laos. Luckily William heard about it and raced to where the saola was being kept in order to observe its behaviour and examine it more closely. Despite being held in a place totally unlike its usual habitat the saola remained very calm and only acted aggressively in the presence of dogs. Unfortunately Martha survived for just three weeks and after her death it was discovered that she had been pregnant with a male foetus.
It is unclear why saolas taken into captivity die so quickly but William Robichaud thinks it could be down to a specialised diet that cannot be provided in captivity as well as the stress caused by inexperience of those keeping the saola captive.
The main threat to the saola is hunting even though they are not the primary target of poachers. Snares and traps set for more valuable prey are catching the rare saola instead and the building of new roads further threatens the saola as they will open up saola habitats to even more poachers as well as causing disturbance to their habitats.
In the face of these threats conservation of the saola continues to gather much needed attention. Two saola nature reserves have been established in Vietnam and long-term conservation funding has been secured but this does not mean the saola has been saved yet and work must continue to ensure this beautiful creature is not lost so soon after its discovery.
You can read the full interview with William Robichaud at the Mongabay website here.