The Saola (also spelled Siola) is often called the “Asian Unicorn”(because of its rarity and gentle nature). The animal was not discovered until 1992. It is a scarce animal – so much so, scientists have only seen it four times in the wild. It has only been seen in Vietnam and Laos. It has been classified as one of the world’s rarest large mammals. The Saola is related to cattle, goats, and antelopes. In Laos, the animal is referred to as the saht-supahp, which means “the polite animal.” This is because it is known to roam through the forest in a quiet manner.
Team Discovers The Saola
In 1992 the Vietnam Ministry of Forestry sent a team to examine the biodiversity of a new area known as the Vu Quang National Park. On May 21, the team discovered a skull featuring a pair of strange, long, and pointed horns from a hunter in the area. The following day they found a similar pair. The team called it the “Saola.” On July 17, they officially announced their discovery. The team agreed on the discovery of such a large, unknown animal was very unexpected. It was the first large animal found in the area during the previous 50 years.
A Description Of The Saola
In 1998 a Saola was observed, roaming around for about two weeks. She was named “Martha.” She suddenly died due to unknown causes. The group coordinator, William G. Robichaud, said the female animal was about 33 inches in height. Martha’s body length was 4 feet 9 inches. The tail measured 9.1 inches. She had a chocolate brown coat and white patches on her face, throat, and sides of the neck. A paler shade of brown was seen on the neck and belly. Martha had a black dorsal stripe, and a pair of nearly parallel horns (which are present on both the male and female). Robichaud said the hair was soft and thin. People living in areas where Saolas have been spotted report the animal is active during the day as well as at night. It prefers to rest during the hot midday hours. People also reported the animal has been seen in groups of two or three. Robichaud explained that the captured female was calm in humans’ presence, although she was afraid of dogs. A dog caused her to snort and thrust her head forward.
The Saola Is An Endangered Species
The animal is currently considered to be critically endangered. This is partly due to its restrictive habitat as well as through local hunting and illegal trade in furs, traditional medicines, and the use of meat in restaurants and food markets. The Saola also gets caught in snares set up to catch animals raiding crops. More than 26,651 traps have so far been removed from the areas in which they live. The total number of living Saola’s is not known.
The beautiful animal will most likely not live for future generations to see and enjoy. Presently there are not any in captivity to be observed or to be placed in a safe environment where they can breed and live in peace.