Today’s endangered animal is quite the unicorn. Brace yourselves.
Saola (pronounced sow-la) are in the genus bovid family. Other bovids include bison, buffalo, antelopes and domestic cattle. The saola stand out because they have long curving horns and striking white marking patterns on their face. Saola are endemic to the deep, evergreen forests and Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. Saola means “spinning wheel posts” in the Lao language because their horns resemble the spinning wheels on posts that villagers used. They weigh about 175-220 pounds (80-100kg).
I usually tell you about the animal’s diet, behavior and reproduction cycles but for once, I won’t be able to do that. This animal is listed as critically endangered. That’s one step above extinction. The story behind this animal’s existence is quite an extraordinary one. You see, one day a team of the Vietnamese government and a group from WWF (World Wildlife Fund) went out to conduct a general biodiversity. This sometimes includes walking into the homes of hunters to see some of their prizes. One day, they stumbled upon an unusual pair of horns in the home of a local hunter. They were horns they had never seen before from any animal in all of Southeast Asia.
This lead to this huge discovery about a large mammal in Laos that was previously unknown. The scientists eventually found more horns and even the full skin of a saola and published their findings in the 1993 journal Nature. It was dubbed “one of the most spectacular discoveries of the 20th century”.
As cool as that sounds, its also quite sad. The saola have only been captured on film or print a handful of times. Nobody knows how many actually still exist because they live in such deep, dense forests and there are none in captivity. If there are any left, they are still in serious danger due is habitat loss from deforestation and hunting. Because they are so rare, they are often caught in snares meant for other wildlife but are then capitalized on once the hunter figures out its the rare saola.
So far efforts to save this unicorn are very limited because they are so rare. Areas of Laos are legally protected and groups such as WWF are working to expand those protected areas daily.