News Release

A royal gift for the ‘Asian unicorn’

07 November 2014
Female Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
Photo: William Robichaud

In honour of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort of Denmark’s 80th birthday this year, Copenhagen Zoo recently made a generous donation to the IUCN Saola Working Group (SWG). The Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is a Critically Endangered ungulate endemic to the Annamite Mountains of Lao PDR and Viet Nam. It is so rare and enigmatic that it is often referred to as the ‘Asian unicorn’.

The Prince Consort Henrik, husband of Queen Margrethe II, grew up in French Indochina (now Viet Nam), home to the Saola. He speaks Vietnamese, and remains particularly HRH the Prince Consort presenting to SWG Coordinator William Robichaud, on behalf of saola conservation, a check for 62,800 Danish kroner. Photo: Michael Petersenfond of the area. Consequently, to honour the Prince Consort on his birthday, Copenhagen Zoo allocated a portion of zoo entrance fees to the conservation of Saola and the efforts of the SWG. The initiative raised over 8,000 Euros and on 29 October 2014, a ceremony was held at the zoo during which the Prince Consort presented the donation to SWG Coordinator William Robichaud.

“Copenhagen Zoo has been a dedicated supporter of Saola conservation Copenhagen Zoo CEO Steffen Straede presenting HRH the Prince Consort with a framed certificate (and saola photo) explaining the gift. Photo: Michael Petersenfor several years now, and this is the latest and most interesting chapter,” said William Robichaud. “We are deeply grateful to both the zoo and the Prince Consort for their interest and generosity.”

The SWG is part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group. It is a collaborative partnership of 23 members, drawn mainly from staff of national and international conservation organizations and Female Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), Lak Xao, Bolikhamxay Province, Laos, 1996. Photo: William Robichaudgovernment agencies in the two Saola range states.

The Saola inhabits dense forests along the Lao/Viet Nam border. Its scientific discovery in 1992 was one of the most surprising zoological finds of the 20th century. Little more than two decades later, it is one of the most threatened large mammals in the world. At best, only a few hundred animals remain alive today and numbers may be so low that viable populations no longer exist.

The Saola’s decline is due mainly to intense pressure from hunting and snaring of species valued in traditional East Asian medicine and the regional bushmeat trade. Paradoxically, Saola is not a target species; it is being driven to extinction largely as bycatch of unsustainable hunting efforts. The hunting pressure is aggravated by habitat fragmentation, particularly from road construction which extends the reach of poachers. The SWG and its partners are working with the governments of Lao PDR and Viet Nam on innovative approaches to reduce snaring and hunting in key sites for Saola. Leveraging the Saola as a conservation ‘flagship’ for the globally significant Annamite Mountains also benefits many other native species.

“Saving the Saola from extinction won’t be easy,” said William Robichaud. “Success will require broad collaboration, on an international scale. The support of Copenhagen Zoo – and now also the Danish royal family – is an exemplary model for this.”

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