Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 22 – The Saola aka the Asian Unicorn


Photo: David Hulse – WWF

Endemic to the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam,  the enigmatic saola was only discovered in 1992.   A team made up of workers and scientists from the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and the WWF came across a skull,  complete with horns,  in the home of a hunter in north-central Vietnam.   No new large mammals had been scientifically described since the Kouprey (Bos sauveli) in 1937,  making this one of the most exciting zoological finds of the century.

Also known as the Asian unicorn,  it is one of the world’s rarest mammals.  Looking remarkably like an antelope;  in reality,  the saola is a member of the Bovidae family.   With its chestnut coat,  white facial markings,  various body markings and unusual horns (possibly used for protection against predators),  it is a very singular animal,  and difficult to confuse with any other.  The two sharp-tipped long straight horns can grow up to 50 cm on both the male and female of the species.  The only sound they have been heard to make is a soft bleating noise,  rather like a domestic sheep.  Their young are born between April and June (usually one) after an eight month gestation period.

There has been little chance to study these animals whilst alive as they have rarely been seen since first discovered.  Put that together with the surviving numbers,  70 – 750,  and it is easy to understand why so little is known about them.  The source of most of the information gathered has come from one captive female.  No others survived long enough.   Other studies have come from dead specimens.

Subtropical/tropical moist mountain forests during the wet season and the lowlands in winter.
The Annamite Mountains along the Vietnam/Laos  border
What they eat
Small leafy plants  (they are especially partial to fig leaves),   various grasses and herbs
Habitat loss,  by-catch (snares set for other animals, such as boar and deer)  and hunting; their horns are prized.
Status: Critically Endangered
The IUCN estimates the total saola population to be less than 750. There are currently no saola in captivity.  The saola is protected by law in both Vietnam and in the Lao PDR.  But, enforcement is difficult and the hunting continues. The IUCN and other agencies are working to resolve this situation. The WWF has given the saola’s survival priority stating: “Its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the Indochina region.”

“If we were to wipe out insects alone on this planet, the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land.
Within a few months.”
E.O. Wilson

10 thoughts on “Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 22 – The Saola aka the Asian Unicorn

  1. Pingback: Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 87 – The Okapi | Mungai and the Goa Constrictor

    • Little numbers – little known! There are masses of animals out there that many of have not heard of yet, including me. Hopefully, I can highlight a few. What is a terrible shame is that SO VERY MANY are endangered. What is wonderful is the amount of global support they receive. Not enough but nevertheless there is a great deal of it 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words, Paulette. I am thoroughly enjoying doing this. If the animals do disappear, we won’t be far behind them. We need to save them to save ourselves – though I feel just saving them and the good people would be enough sometimes.LOL

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