Photo credit: Silviculture
Asian Unicorn’ Seen In Vietnam For The First Time In Fifteen Years
by Lisa Winter
Okay, so the saola is’t really a unicorn. It is actually related to antelopes and has two horns coming out from the top of its head that can grow 50 centimeters long. The ‘unicorn’ moniker is more of a nod to how elusive it can be and how rare the sightings are. It was only discovered in 1992 and photographed in the wild only a handful of times before it went missing again. The last time game cameras in Vietnam spotted a saola in the wild was in 1999. A saola was captured by a small village in Laos in 2010, though it sadly did not survive.
The saola is listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN Red List. The biggest threats to the saola population are habitat loss, poaching, and snaring. Snares are intended to target animals like civets, which can fetch a good deal of money in illegal wildlife trading. However, many saola have gotten caught. Vietnamese conservation officials have worked with the World Wildlife Fund to rid the saola’s habitat of over 30,000 snares and 600 poacher’s camps in the last two years alone.
Though being so elusive has garnered the saola the coolest nickname of the animal kingdom, it has hindered conservation efforts. Because so little is known about it, it is difficult to try to help. Biologists have been unable to observe the Asian Unicorn in its natural habitat and have largely had to rely on observations from villagers who live in the saola’s range. The range itself is fairly small, as it just covers a small portion of the Annamite mountains between Vietnam and Laos.
The rediscovery in Vietnam happened in September, when game cameras spotted the saola very briefly. The fact that there are still individuals out there has encouraged conservationists that there is still a small but persistent population. It has been an affirmation that their efforts have been working. They hope to find more individuals so that they might learn more and discover how to better protect the amazing, elusive Asian Unicorn.