Today marks the first annual World Saola Day, a day to encourage conversation of a species unknown to most of us. The saola, which resembles an antelope and is in the cattle family, was discovered in Vietman in 1992. When scientists found a skull of a deceased saola, they knew they had stumbled upon something new. It was four years before anyone saw one alive.
The discovery of the saola has proven to be one of the most amazing zoological finds in the 20th century. It was the first time in more than 50 years that a new large mammal genus was discovered.
After discovery, and unable to identify the population due to the animal’s elusive presence, the mission was on to find and save the saola. Cameras have only captured six pictures of the animal, the most recent being in 2013. And few opportunities to research the saola in captivity is all that scientists know about the animal, its habitat, and its behavior.
The descriptions of the animal in captivity though, are almost magical. Zoologist William Robichaud reported the animal was “almost Buddha-like in its serenity. It was also beautiful, with splashes of white on its muzzle, intricate bands of color on its tail and a pair of graceful, slightly curved horns in such perfect parallel that, when viewed in profile, they seemed to merge into a single unicorn-like horn. Indeed, for this, the saola soon became known as Asia’s unicorn.”
Groups like the Saola Working Group are trying to save the species, believing it may be the most endangered large mammal in the world. The IUCN currently lists the saola as “critically endangered” with estimated numbers ranging from dozens to several hundred individuals. The biggest threat comes from poachers who deal in the exotic meat market.
Learn more about the saola here, and raise awareness for this beautiful and exotic creature with the hashtag #SaveTheSaola