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43. Saola

Pseudoryx nghetinhensis


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

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.46 (?)
ED Score: 13.68 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


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.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Droughts Crops Wood plantations Mining Roads/Rail Utility lines Hunting Logging Fishing Dams

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
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