SPECIES- Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)
CURRENT RANGE- Vietnam/Laos border
CURRENT THREAT- Poachers
CONSERVATION STATUS- Critically Endangered
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM- Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve
WHAT IS IT?
This rarely seen animal goes by a host of names: Saola, Vu Quang ox and Asian unicorn. The latter has a double meaning: Yes, the forest dweller has a beautiful set of horns atop its white spot-speckled head. However, the prized mammal is seen so infrequently by humans that it now feels like something out of a child’s fairytale. Just about everything surrounding the Asian unicorn, which wasn’t even discovered until 1992, has stumped wildlife experts. They do know the mammal is more closely related to a wild cow than an antelope. Sadly, they’re also confident that the elusive creature’s numbers only range somewhere between a couple dozen and 200.
WHY ARE THEY ENDANGERED?
It doesn’t appear that hunters in Southeast Asia are hunting saola for food or sale on any underground markets. According to researchers, the animal is being caught as a bycatch—like the gruesome scenario still plaguing tuna and dolphin. One would think that a few of these Asian unicorns mistakenly captured would end up in captivity somewhere, but even in those amazingly rare instances when one has been seized, it has died abruptly. Scientists insist it’s the stress of the capture that kills them.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO SAVE THEM?
Feeling that the evasive bovine’s very existence is in peril, the animal community has taken its rescue efforts into high gear. In 2011 the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve was declared on the Vietnam-Laos border. The World Wildlife Fund has the Asian unicorn on its exclusive “priority species” list. Groups like the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and Wildlife Conservation Society Lao are trying to educate Asian communities about the animal and conduct field studies to identify areas that would best support the mammal’s population. The Saola Working Group is a dedicated organization raising money and awareness for all of these initiatives and many more. Here’s hoping their combined efforts can ensure the species’ survival. –DeMarco Williams