In July 2016, I traveled with a colleague of mine, An The Truong Nguyen, to Pu Mat National Park (NP), a protected area in a remote corner of north-central Vietnam. Pu Mat NP is believed to be one of the best places in Vietnam for rare and endangered Annamite endemic mammals. It was here that both Saola and Annamite striped rabbit were photographed for the first time in the wild. The purpose of this trip wasn’t to go into the forest, as enjoyable as that might have been, but to provide a camera trap training course to Pu Mat NP staff.
GWC had loaned the protected area 18 camera trap units to try out in promising areas, and An and I were traveling on behalf of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research to provide training in how to deploy the cameras in the forest. Colleagues from Vinh University also provided support. Everyone was hoping that these cameras would give us a glimpse into the wildlife in this area: Had the area been emptied by poaching in recent years? Had some wildlife managed to survive in remote areas? Did rare and little known endemic species like Saola or striped rabbit still exist? These were the questions that we had in mind. For me, I was also looking forward to reconnecting to old friends and laying the foundation for a strong conservation partnership that would provide a solid foundation for future work.
The day started off well, with the copious amounts of traditional Vietnamese hospitality and unending cups of green tea. Tuan, scientific director at Pu Mat NP, was enthusiastic about the cameras and the potential to collaborate. The camera trap training took place in an overgrown garden behind the headquarters: but in my mind this shrubby tangle of undergrowth was transformed into the darkest corner of Pu Mat NP, and the rangers crawling in front of the cameras to test them were four-hooved Saola. First we asked the rangers to set the cameras in open flat areas—which was easy enough. But as anyone who has worked in this area knows, the Annamites forest is neither flat nor open, and so we soon moved to steeper “test sites.” The rangers learned and adapted quickly. In just a few hours, they were setting cameras on steep vegetation-choked slopes—similar to what exists in the heart of Pu Mat NP.
The rangers have set and picked up the cameras. The results in the photo album below indicate a surprisingly high mammalian diversity left in Pu Mat NP. I hope that this preliminary work is only the beginning of more comprehensive surveys.
Read more about Tilker’s work and adventures on Saola Blog: https://saolablog.wordpress.com/