The Scientists are stepping up their search for the elusive ‘Asian unicorn’, one of the rarest animals in the world, in an effort to save it from extinction.
The Asian unicorn, also called the saola, is native to the mountains of Vietnam and Laos, but is in “critical danger of extinction”, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
With its long horns and white facial markings, the saola resembles the North African antelope, but is more closely related to wild cattle.
The species was discovered in Vietnam’s Vu Quang Nature Reserve in May 1992, when a joint team from WWF and the Vietnam Forest Control Agency found a skull with unusually long straight horns in a hunter’s home.
No biologist has ever reported seeing one in the wild, and it was only recently spotted nine years ago, thanks only to secret cameras hidden in the trees.
Now, experts at the Saola Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, are planning new efforts to find the creature, training dogs to detect traces of saola.
“We are at a moment in the history of conservation,” William Robichaud, president of the Saola Foundation, told The Guardian.
The saola or Asian unicorn (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is a forest-dwelling bovine found only in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos.
The Saola remain in the mountain forests during the wet seasons, when stream and river water is abundant, and descend to the lowlands in winter.
They are shy and never enter cultivated fields or go near villages. To date, all known captive saola have died, leading to the belief that this species cannot live in captivity.
An adult saola is about 60 inches (150 cm) in total length.
“We know how to find and save this magnificent animal that has been on planet Earth for perhaps 8 million years.
“We just need the world to come together and support the effort. It won’t cost much, and the payoff, for Saola, for the Annamite Mountains, and for us, will be huge. “
Saola are recognized by two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 20 inches long and are found on both males and females, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Saola also has striking white markings on its face and large jaw glands on its snout, which could be used to mark territory or attract mates.
As part of the Saola Foundation’s new initiative, any samples found in the wild that are suspected of being saola, such as hides or manure, will be studied in DNA test kits on site.
If the kits test positive within an hour, the experts would begin searching for saola in the forest near the sample location.
If they found saolas, the creatures would be captured and taken to a breeding center that is being developed with the help of the Vietnamese government in the Bạch Mã national park in central Vietnam.
Based on the threat and expert opinion assessments, IUCN believes there are fewer than 100 individual saolas.
The Saola Foundation places this number potentially below 50.
There are no saolas in zoos and almost nothing is known about how to keep them in captivity, so if the species dies in the wild, it will become extinct.
Saolas are so reserved and rarely seen that they have been compared to unicorns, despite the fact that they actually have two horns, as opposed to the mythical unicorn’s single horn.
In four follow-up visits, new remains were discovered, including the animal’s skin and more bones. In all, the researchers examined more than 20 specimens.
According to the findings, the species was first described in 1993 by a team of authors that included Vietnamese biologist Do Tuoc, who was part of the 1992 expedition.
It was “one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century,” according to WWF.
In 2013, a saola was photographed by a strategically located camera trap hidden in the foliage of trees in the central Annamite Mountains of Vietnam.
It was the first time the endangered horned creature had been seen in the wild in the country for 15 years.
In 2010, locals captured a saola in a remote region of Laos and sadly, the animal died only a few days later, probably due to being given the wrong food.
The species eats fig leaves and other shrubs along riverbanks, as well as grasses and grasses at ground level.
* Tequila fish: the curious case of the “extinct” fish that came back to life in the rivers of Mexico