Vietnam Creates New Saola Preserve for Asian UnicornApr 19th, 2011 | By Roy Rasmussen | Category: Science and Nature
Vietnam has set aside a new preserve for the rare saola, known as the Asian unicorn, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) announced Thursday. Quang Nam’s People Committee agreed to the Forestry Protection Department creating a Saola Natural Reserve in the Annamite Range of mountains along the border between Vietnam and Laos.
Saola (pronounced “sow-la”) is a word from a Vietnamese dialect that means “spinning-wheel post horn,” sometimes translated into English as “spindle-horned,” referring to the animal’s horns. The Hmong people of Laos also call the saola the saht-supahp, meaning “the polite animal,” referring to the creature’s quiet habits.
The saola is also called the Vu Quang ox, named for its discovery in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve in the Vu Quang forest of Vietnam. It is a member of the bovine subfamily of mammals, which includes cattle, yaks, and antelope.
The saola looks like a small deer with short legs. It stands less than three feet tall at the shoulder and weighs approximately 200 pounds. It has horns that curve slightly back and grow to about 20 inches. Its coat is dark brown with a black stripe down the back. Its face has white vertical stripes down the sides of the eyebrows and white splotches on the nose and cheeks. Saola have large scent glands, among the largest of any living mammal, which they use to mark territory.
Saola eat small leafy plants, such as fig leaves and stems that grow along rivers. They usually travel in groups of two or three. They are shy and never enter cultivated fields or come near villages.
The saola is one of the rarest mammals. It is found only in the Annamite Range of Vietnam and Laos, where other rare species of antelope and deer live. It was not discovered until 1992, when a joint survey of the Ministry of Forestry and the World Wide Fund for Nature found its remains in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve. It was the first discovery of a new large mammal since 1936, the same year the last known thylacine died. It took nearly two more decades for scientists to observe a live specimen. A saola was captured live in 2010, but died in captivity.
So far all captured saola have died. Scientists estimate that only a few hundred exist in the wild. Since the species was discovered, the WWF has worked with Vietnamese scientists and officials to promote its protection. Several saola reserves have now been established.