The saola was first discovered by western scientists in 1992. Since then, it has only been documented in the wild four times. This animal is so rare that scientists cannot even accurately determine how many of them are still in existence, but one thing is certain, it is critically endangered. The Saola is endemic, meaning it only lives in, the Annamite Mountain range, which straddles the borders of Vietnam and Laos.
The saola is a beautiful animal, and to look at one is to look at the perfection of nature. They are a cousin to the cattle family, but they closely resemble an antelope. It has a barrel-chested body; the muzzle is splashed with white and sitting on top of the skull of the animal are two long beautifully straight horns. In fact, when looked at from the side, it almost looks as if the saola has one single horn sticking out through its head, which reminds many people of a unicorn.
Today, the saola is currently under siege. It is facing many threats to its precarious existence in the Annamite Mountains. Hunters from Vietnam and Laos seek out the saola for its meat and horns, and unwittingly the saola’s instinct helps the hunters in bringing down the animal. A defense move used by the saola when being chased by a predator is to jump into the nearest stream and face the predator head on with its horns lowered. This might work against a pack of wild dogs; however, this defense mechanism does not work when being pursued by a hunter with a rifle. It leaves them standing there as an easy target. Saola’s also are killed and injured by snares intended for other animals that are set in the forest by poachers. The saola often ends up as an unfortunate bycatch.
Another major threat facing the saola, as well as the environment they call home, is habitat degradation. The Annamite Mountains, like so many habitats across the globe, are currently under attack by the logging industry. Whole swaths of forest are being torn down and replaced with human towns. To the already badly endangered saola, this is just another factor in their descent into the void of extinction.
The saola is a mysterious and amazing animal endemic to a small mountain range located in Southeast Asia. Sadly, it is following a host of other animals who are all walking into the depths of extinction, their wonder and magnificence lost to the world forever. Even sadder, hardly anyone today is aware that the saola even exists. Hopefully bringing attention to the saola and to the challenges it is facing towards its survival, we can take action and save it before the only thing that remains are photos of a once amazing animal.
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