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ENDANGERED: The Saola

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Having been only discovered in 1992, very little is known about the saola.

Thể loại:Sách đỏ Việt NamImage Credit:  Silviculture on WIkipedia

What is a saola?

The so-called ‘Asian unicorn’ fails to exist in captivity and is already critically endangered, having been only spotted on four occasions by scientists in the wild. When it was discovered in the early 1990s, it was the 'first large mammal new to science since the 1940s'.

The saola (pronounced ‘sow-la’), is exclusively found in the Annamite Mountains, which sit on the border of Vietnam and Laos, and is a cousin of cattle but resemble antelopes. They are distinguished by their two sharp horns, which 'can reach 20 inches in length', striking white markings on their face, sleek fur and 'large maxillary glands' on their muzzle.

According to reports given by local villagers, the saola eats 'leafy plants, fig leaves and stems' along rivers and animal trails.

The herbivores have a lifespan of 10-15 years and are about 4.9 feet in length. It is estimated that there the population of the saola sits anywhere between 100-750 animals, with under 100 being in a protected area. All known saola in captivity have died, leading scientists to believe that these creatures are unable to live in captivity.

The threats

The most prominent threats posed to the existence of these rare mammals are hunting and habitat loss. Saola can be caught in snares intended for subsistence use and crop protection against other forest-dwelling animals, but the Saola Working Group claims that the main threat to the saola is commercial poaching, where the creatures are targeted for 'bushmeat or.. medicine'. Most saola killed by the locals were found in winter, while they are in lowland habitats near to villages.

Madagascar dry deciduous deforestation

Image Credit: Cunningchrisw

They are also yet another victim to the vast deforestation caused by human activity. With forests being eradicated to 'make way for agriculture, infrastructure and plantations', the 'saola are being squeezed into smaller spaces'. It is also feared to allow hunters easier access to the previously untouched forest of the saola, making them even more vulnerable.

With saola being critically endangered, their small, dispersed population means that genetic inbreeding, loss of heterozygosity, skewed sex ratios and the difficult of male and females to find each other to mate means that the threat to the survival of the saola is growing.

What is being done?

The Saola Working Group strives to conserve the saola, using the rare creature as a flagship for the conservation of the Annamite Mountains’ diverse animals as a whole.

WWF has also been involved in the protection of the critically endangered species, by 'strengthening and establishing protected areas' for the saola. They also focus on leading research, 'community-based forest management... and strengthening law enforcement'. Vu Quang Nature Reserve’s management, where the saola was first discovered, has also improved over the last few years.

A Population Viability Analysis conducted by the Saola Working Group in November 2015 indicate that 'even if all hunting threats could be achieved', we will be saying goodbye to the saola in the next 10 to 15 years.

Lead Image Credit:  Silviculture on WIkipedia




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