Saola

Facts
  • EDGE Mammals Rank: 46.
  • Unknown to science until 1992 – one of the most exciting discoveries of the last 50 years.
  • Known as the Asian Unicorn due to its rarity.
  • Lives in the mountainous jungle region that separates Vietnam and Lao PDR.
  • Striking physical characteristics include long, nearly straight horns that can reach more than 50cm in length.
  • Fewer than 250 mature individuals are thought to survive – unless urgent action is taken this species could become extinct less than 20 years after it became known to western science.
Threats
  • Hunting is undoubtedly the main threat – every square kilometre of forest within the species’ range probably has snares capable of capturing saola set in it every year.
  • Habitat destruction and fragmentation may also be having a negative impact.
  • The population may now be so small and fragmented that it is particularly vulnerable to these threats, and also to factors such as inbreeding.
Conservation Required
  • Increased patrolling against snaring and other types of hunting.
  • Further research into saola distribution and range, so that protection efforts may be better targeted.
  • Increased protection of habitat and the creation of green corridors to link fragmented patches of habitat.
  • Community education and awareness programmes.


Proposed Actions

EDGE aims to support the conservation of the saola by helping to raise awareness of its plight and by supporting research actions that will lead to a better understanding of saola distribution. By identifying which areas of the forest are used by saola, protection methods may be targeted more effectively.

Incredibly, the saola was completely unknown to western science until its discovery from horns in hunters’ houses in Vietnam in 1992. Now, less than two decades later the saola has come to be regarded as one of the most threatened mammals in southeast Asia. Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the saola remains one of the most mysterious and poorly-known large mammals on the planet. Its long, straight horns and striking white facial markings give it the appearance of a North African antelope. However, research shows that it is in fact more closely related to wild cattle.

Fewer than 250 mature individuals are thought to survive, restricted to remaining forest in the Annamite Mountains between Vietnam and Lao PDR. The forests they inhabit are littered with snares set for other species. With the population at such a critically low level, conservationists fear that hunting could spell the end for this incredible animal unless urgent conservation action is taken.

A Saola Working Group has been established by the IUCN’s Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group in an effort to ensure there is a co-ordinated approach to the conservation of this species. The working group includes staff of the Forestry departments of Lao PDR and Vietnam, Vietnam's Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Vinh University, and also biologists and conservationists from non-government organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund. The group is currently overseeing a number of targeted conservation actions for the saola, including snare removal programmes, further research into the species’ ecology, distribution and threats, and capacity building of young conservation biologists in both Vietnam and Lao PDR. However, much more support is needed for saola conservation if the species’ current precarious conservation status is to change for the better.

We aim to support saola conservation through raising awareness about this species and assisting with research into its current distribution. The area of potential saola habitat is huge compared to the estimated surviving saola population, so determining exactly where saola occur will help target conservation measures such as patrolling and snare removal.

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Associated Blog Posts
22nd May 12
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the discovery a pair of saola horns in a village in Vu Quang Nature Reserve, Vietnam, by a team of Vietnamese and WW...  Read

4th May 12
The parasitic lifestyle that bloodsucking leeches lead hasn’t seemed to earn them any respect from human beings, until now. Research published last week ha...  Read

30th Mar 12
Piercing through the dark fog of pessimistic predictions for conservation’s future, rays of hope are appearing, in the guise of newly discovered species or...  Read

5th Dec 11
One of EDGE’s top priority species is the saola; a shy and secretive mammal found in Vietnam and Lao PDR that many people have never even heard of. It...  Read

11th Apr 11
Earlier this month William Robichaud gave an interview to Mongabay.com about his work into the research and conservation of the endangered saola (Pseudoryx n...  Read

2nd Mar 11
One of the new additions to the group of focal EDGE Mammals in urgent need of conservation attention is the saola, a shy and secretive mammal found in Vietna...  Read