FOTA Wildlife Park is helping conservation efforts to protect one of the world's most endangered species of deer.
Last year Fota donated €10,000 to the Saola Working Group as part of a worldwide coordinated call to fund the setting up of a breeding centre for the extremely rare saola in Vietnam’s Bach Ma National Park.
This money was in addition to an earlier €10,000 that Fota Wildlife Park donated in 2013.
Although no zoo has ever cared for the antelope-like saola—and no biologist has ever seen one in the wild—zoos and affiliated organizations around the world are contributing more than €280,000 to support efforts that represent the last best hope to save the critically endangered species: a conservation breeding centre.
Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park said: “The rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability of the saola make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the Indochina region."
The saola was discovered by science in 1992 in the border of Laos and Vietnam. Although the SWG partnership has made advances in the protection of saola habitat, commercial poaching remains a significant threat and has the saola teetering on the edge of extinction.
Biologists have also only photographed the species five times in the wild since its discovery, all by camera traps—twice in Laos and three times in Vietnam.
Saolas are difficult to detect because of their rarity and elusiveness, which has earned them the nickname Asian “unicorn,” and because they live in dense forest in remote and difficult terrain.
"Its wild population is considered to be less than 100 individuals. Subsequently, the species has been classified as ‘critically endangered’. With the help of organisations such as Fota Wildlife Park, we are hoping that our combined contributions will help to preserve this unique species for future generations," Mr McKeown said.
“Fota Wildlife Park may not have saolas in their collection, but they understand the inherent value of this rare species and are demonstrating their clear commitment to wildlife conservation with their donations,” said Bill Robichaud, coordinator of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Saola Working Group (SWG).
“We are so grateful for the support from the zoological community, which recognizes that while the conservation breeding program is going to be risky, it’s the only option left to ensure we don’t lose this remarkable animal forever.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in technical partnership with the SWG, has selected Vietnam’s Bach Ma National Park as the site for the world’s first saola breeding centre. The Bach Ma centre is due to start construction in early 2018.