Saola

The Asian Unicorn

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What are saola?

Saola (pronounced sow-la), scientific name Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, are critically endangered and rarely seen in the wild. None are in captivity and not much is known from their 20 years of discovery. The saola was described as (1)'one of the most rarest and threatened species on the planet'. The population is thought to be a few hundred at a maximum and just a few dozen at a minimum.

Where are saola found?

The entire saola population lies in a small area of forest along the northern and central Annamite mountain range, between Vietnam and the Laos. Saola are most commonly found in dense, evergreen forests that are wet and have a good source of water. The local villagers say that the saola spends the summer further up the alpine slopes and coming down in the winter when the water sources up high have run dry.
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Why are they under threat?

Habitat loss

Forests are disappearing as more and more trees are being chopped down and the saola's habitat is quickly shrinking in size. (1)'Conservationists are concerned that this is allowing hunters easy access to the once untouched forest of the saola and may reduce genetic diversity in the future'.


Hunting

They are accidentally caught in snares which are used to catch wild boar, sambar or muntjac deer. The local villagers set these up for crop protection. Hunting to supply illegal trade of wildlife has escalated and has led to massive increases in hunting from the demand in medicines, restaurants and food markets. The saolas' horns are used as a trophy while the rest of the body is used in natural medicines and remedies.

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Graph of saolas population declining

The saolas population is declining greatly and quickly and people in Vietnam and Laos are working hard to bring it back from the edge of extinction. Scientists predict that if nothing changes they could be extinct by 2020. (1)'Only recently discovered, the saola is already at risk. Its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the Indochina region.'
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Two different points of veiw

A native vietnamese scientist

The discovery of the saola showed that the world can still keep a secret and it made a break from the heap of bad news about the environment. (4)'If only humans had reciprocated and offered the saola a reprieve. A decade after coming to light, the unusual ungulate is skidding toward extinction. Its habitat in Vietnam and Laos is disappearing as human settlements eat into the forest, and it is inadvertently being killed by hunters'.


An American website for kids

(3)'The saola is a unique-looking animal that lives only in the forests on the border of north-central Vietnam and Laos. Saola is also known as Asian unicorn because it is rarely seen in the nature and people sometimes think of saola like it is an imagined creature. Although not much is known about saola, it is listed as critically endangered species due to accelerated habitat loss and hunt.'

"The Saola is also known as the Asian Unicorn, which is not thought to be related to it's long horns, but more the fact that it is just so rare."

How is this issue affecting people/the environment?

Saola are well known in the Vietnam region and its very important to them to conserve them and although there are various small groups that are working towards saving them its hard to fund for them because not many people have heard of them. The saola is almost like the native areas' 'kiwi'. A quote from a video i watched is 'if we can save the saola, we can save the world'.
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What is being done or could be done to solve this issue?

WWF has been involved in the protection of the saola since their discovery in May 1992.

(1)'WWF's work to support the saola focuses on stregthining and establishing protected areas. We also work on research, community based forest management, capacity building and stregthining law enforcement'. WWF helped improve Vu Quang Nature Reserve where saola are found. In the last four years they have helped to make saola reserves in the Thua-Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces.

“Only recently discovered, saola are already extremely threatened. At a time when species extinction on the planet has accelerated, we can work together to snatch this one back from the edge of extinction.” - Dr. Barney Long, WWF Asian species expert