Ever seen a Saola? The extremely rare species of ox, sometimes referred to as the "Asian Unicorn", was recently sighted in central Vietnam, giving conservationists new hope that the elusive and endangered species might again flourish.
The Saola, or long-horned ox, was first discovered in the mountains along the Laos-Vietnam border in 1992, when a team of conservationists discovered an unusual skull kept by a local hunter. The Saola looks like a deer with two long horns. The “Asian Unicorn” nickname stems from the fact that it is so elusive and rare, and not a reference to its actual appearance. The find proved to be the first new large mammal discovered in over fifty years.
The last time a live Saola was seen was around 1998, leaving scientists to believe that the ox was close to extinction until camera traps set out by the World Wildlife Fund and the Vietnamese government captured images of the animal last summer. Despite pictures, conservationists have been stymied in their efforts to nail down a precise number of the oxen since much of their data comes from anecdotal information.
Scientists believe that at most only a few dozen of the animals still exist. This is mainly due to widespread poaching of other types of animals in the region, like the equally rare sun bear, that are used in various types of traditional Chinese medicines. Vietnamese officials say that in 2011 over 30,000 traps were removed by conservation patrols looking to protect the wildlife.
With the Saola listed on the critically endangered list, the Vietnamese government has dedicated considerable resources to patrolling these remote areas to insure that the “Asian Unicorn’” has a chance to once again thrive.
Image: World Wildlife Fund, Associated Press