THE SAOLA—AN ASIAN UNICORN


The saola (pronounced sow-la—scientific name Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) has been referred to as the Asian unicorn because it is so rare and seldom seen. It is also Critically Endangered, with no more than several hundred individuals remaining in several isolated areas of tropical forest stretching along the border between Vietnam and Laos.

Related to cattle but resembling an antelope, the saola—brown with white patches on its head and face and sporting a pair of straight, spindly horns—can grow to a height at the shoulders of a little over three feet (one meter), and a weight of up to 220 pounds (100 kilos).

The saola was first discovered in 1992, and since then has been seen only a handful of times, even by researchers who were looking very hard. In fact, until late 2013 when a camera trap in Vietnam took photos of a single animal, no live saola had been spotted for 15 years.

Illegal hunting and trapping are the main factors pushing the saola toward extinction. Southeast Asian forests have experienced a huge upsurge in poaching over the last few years due to a growing market for wild game and skyrocketing demand for rare wildlife for use in making Asian folk medicines. But the Asian uncorn is also threatened by deforestation.

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