Saola

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The saola was discovered in May 1992 during a joint survey carried out by the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and WWF in north-central Vietnam. The team found a skull with unusual long, straight horns in a hunter's home and knew it was something extraordinary. Soala was discovered near the border between Laos and Vietnam, and was the first large mammal new to science to be discovered since the Kouprey (Bos sauveli) in 1936. And is so unique and different from any previously known species that a separate genus was constructed for it.

Saola are recognized by two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 20 inches in length and are found on both males and females. Saola have striking white markings on the face and large maxillary glands on the muzzle, which could be used to mark territory or attract mates. They are found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.
The coat is glossy and ranges from a rich chestnut-brown to almost black, generally being paler on the belly than the back, with a thin black line extending down the spine and white patches on the side of the neck of some individuals. The darker legs sport two white dots just above the hoofs. The face has striking white markings, including a stripe above each eye (resembling an eyebrow) and a variable pattern of spots and stripes on the cheeks beneath the eye. The chin and lips are also white. The short tail has three distinct regions of color: brown at the base, a white strip, and then ending with a black tassel.
Relative Size
It’s incredibly difficult to measure the size of the saola as conservationists have not studied enough individuals. On approximation, the saola grows up to a height of 85 cm (shoulder height) and weighs around 80 to 100 kg. Their head and body length can be around 150 cm and tail length around 25 cm.
Did You Know
Meaning “spindle horns” in Vietnamese, they are a cousin of cattle but resemble an antelope. Often called the Asian unicorn, little is known about the enigmatic saola. None exist in captivity and this rarely-seen mammal has been categorically documented from the wild on only four occasions to date. Scientists are working on to detect this rare mammal in the field is by using leeches. As the leech drink blood from passing animals, the blood stays in the digestive system for a few months. The researchers can test the blood to find out which animals the leech has been feeding on and if saola blood turns up in a leech, the scientists will know the presence of saola in the vicinity.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Cetartiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Genus
Pseudoryx
Species
nghetinhensis
Other Names
English
Saola
Ta Oi
a ngao
Lao
sǎo-lǎ
Hmong
saht-supahp
Van Kieu
lagiang
Status
Critically Endangered
All available information indicates that the species is in a clear and protracted decline throughout its small range from intense hunting pressure, accelerated by continued opening of its habitat to increased human access. Listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List, saola often end up as incidental victims to snares set by hunters looking to catch Asiatic black bears or Malayan sun bears.
Population
The actual size of the remaining population is unknown. Its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the region. The current population is thought to be a few hundred at a maximum and possibly only a few dozen at a minimum. Based on the assessment and conclusions through information exchange among researchers at meetings of the saola Working Group of the IUCN SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group (Saola Working Group 2009, 2013) the population is estimated at < 250 mature individuals, with a continuing population decline, and largest subpopulation estimated to contain <50 individuals.="" o:p="">
Habitat
The saola have been seen in river valleys at an elevation of 400 to 1,200 m. These valleys have either evergreen forests or evergreen and woodland forests and also indicates the fact that these species like to live around the edges of forests. During rainy seasons, the saolas stay in mountain forests where there are plenty of water in rivers and streams and move to the low-lying areas during winter.
Range
This species occurs only in the Annamite Mountains region of Laos and Vietnam. Most records are from south of the Song Ca (river) in Vietnam, south to at least Quang Nam, but a population to the north of the Ca River, in Phu Houng Nature Reserve, is also been reported. In Vietnam, evidence of occurrence comes from Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua-Thien Hue and Quang Nam Provinces. In Laos, there are evidence from Xieng Khouang, Bolikhamxay, Khammouan, Savannakhet and Xekong Provinces.
Occurring Countries
Lao People's Democratic Republic and Vietnam
               
Biology
Very little information is available about this mysterious species and all the ecological information are based on a single captive female. Being a browser, saola fed on all plants, and showed a preference for the broad-leaved shrubs and trees. Marking behavior involved opening up the flap of the maxillary gland and leaving a pungent secretion on rocks and vegetation.
Single foetus pregnancy has been documented and the information from local villagers suggests the species have a fixed breeding season. The births take place at the beginning of the rains, between April and June after a gestation period of about 8 months (estimated). Evidence from camera-trap photos and observations of captive saola’s suggest that the species may be primarily diurnal and crepuscular, with activity often concentrated early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Predators
Indochinese Tiger, Indochinese leopards, Siamese crocodile and dholes (Fierce wild dog of the forests of central and southeast Asia that hunts in packs) could be their predators.
Threats
Hunting and snared opportunistically for meat by local people in Laos and Vietnam. Although rarely targeted specifically, saola are often caught in snares set in the forest for wild boar, sambar or muntjac deer and is a major threat. As forests disappear to make way for agriculture, plantations and infrastructure, saola are being squeezed into smaller and fragmented spaces. And this has led to access for lowland people to hunt and supply for the illegal trade in wildlife, driven by traditional medicine demand in China and restaurant and food markets in Vietnam and Laos. More than 26,651 snares have so far been removed from saola habitats by conservation groups by 2013.
Conservation Measures
Because the species is so rare, there is a continuous lack of adequate data; this is one of the major problems facing saola conservation. The saola Working Group was formed by the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, in 2006 to protect the saolas and their habitat. This coalition includes about 40 experts from the forestry departments of Laos and Vietnam, Vietnam's Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Vinh University, biologists and conservationists from Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Saola is listed on CITES Appendix I and both of its range countries are CITES signatories. The species is protected by national law in Vietnam and in Laos and parts of the saola’s presumed range are legally protected.
Conservation Video
Working Together to Save the Saola by World Wildlife Fund
References

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