Secret Saola

Along the Laotian and Vietnamese border lives a small forest ox. This creature was only discovered in 1992 and has since only been seen a small number of times. Despite being a new-to-us species, it’s already under threat. This Odd Animal Profile is about the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), which is already listed as critically endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. What can we learn about this fascinating animal before it’s too late?

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Sometimes called the Asian Unicorn, not to be confused with the actual Japanese mystical creature called Ichiban, actually has two horns. What this misleading and frankly confusing nickname means is that this animal is hardly even seen. The first time it was even seen in the wild in the 2000’s was in 2013 when researchers caught a photo of it on a camera trap.

Camera Trap Photo of the Saola, identified by its iconic horns
Camera Trap Photo of the Saola, identified by its iconic horns

What we do know about the Saola is that it is not an antelope, as it is sometimes mistakenly called, but in fact from the Bovidae family like cattle and other oxen. It stands about 90cm at its shoulder (about 3 feet), and has 2 long horns that can grow about 52cm in length. Other than knowing generally where it lives (wet, evergreen forests) we know don’t know much about the Saola, sometimes called the Vu Quang Ox. A female was kept in captivity in Laos for about a week before it died, and a researcher has never seen one in the wild. Only 3 photos of it in the wild have ever been captured. Everything else known from the species comes from what local people can tell scientists.

Having a species that science has only known about for 24 years be one thats already critically endangered is a real wakeup call. At last count in 2013 officials removed over 300,000 hunting snares in Saola habitat. If something is not done soon to protect this creatures limited habitat range, it could be gone before we can really have the chance to study it.

Not much is known about this forest oxen,  as it has been so rarely seen and none are currently kept in captivity. One of the difficulties with preserving the Saola is that its current known range is along the Laotian and Vietnamese border. Working to preserve animals along borders is traditionally difficult because it requires governments to work together and agree on conservation issues, which is not normally the easiest thing.

Known range of the Saola
Known range of the Saola

Through the establishment of protected areas and stricter monitoring of hunting activities in those protected areas could prove to save this species from extinction

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