Incredibly, the saola was completely unknown to western science until its discovery from horns found in the houses of Vietnamese hunters in 1992.
Now, less than two decades later, it is regarded as one of the most threatened mammals in Southeast Asia. The saola resembles the desert antelopes of Arabia in appearance, but is in fact more closely related to wild cattle. They are a primitive member of the ruminant artiodactyl family Bovidae, which includes antelope, buffalo, bison, cattle, goats and sheep. However, the sole member of its genus Pseudoryx, the saola diverged from all other living species more than 13 million years ago.
Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the saola population may be as low as a few tens of individuals today. These are restricted to remaining forest in the Annamite Mountains between Vietnam and Lao PDR, where they are threatened with extinction by hunting and deforestation. These forests are littered with snares set for other species which are likely to capture saola.
With the population at such a critically low level, urgent conservation action is needed to bring these remarkable animal back from the brink of extinction. However, all efforts to maintain the species in captivity have failed, and the elusive nature of the species means conservation efforts are difficult to implement.
- Order: Cetartiodactyla
- Family: Bovidae
- Population: <750
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 1.5-2m
- Weight: 80-100kg
This species is restricted to a narrow area of forest along the northern and central Annamite Mountains, on the border between Vietnam and Loa People’s Democratic Republic. Its range includes the only extensive pristine forest in the Vietnam. It is suspected to occur in less than 15 forest blocks in the two countries.
Habitat and Ecology
They are active during the day and primarily browsers, eating the leaves of fig trees and other bushes along riverbanks, as well as eating grasses and herbs from ground level. They live in dense wet, evergreen forest, including lowland secondary forest along rivers. They reportedly keep to higher slopes in summer and descend to lower levels in winter when the upper streams dry.