Saola is a large animal that resembles an antelope, but it’s more closely related to the bovine family. This unique-looking animal only lives in the forests on the border of Laos and north-central Vietnam.
Scientific community heard about saolas for the first time in 1992. Saola is a recently discovered species of large mammals. It weighs between 176 and 220 pounds and can reach 59-77 inches in length.
In May 1992, WWF in north-central Vietnam and the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam carried out a joint survey in which they discovered the saola. The group found a skull with unusually long, straight horns in a home of a hunter and realized it was something quite extraordinary. The find proved to be one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century and the first large mammal new to science in more than fifty years.
Meaning “spindle horns” in Vietnamese, saolas are a cousin of cattle but looks like an antelope. You can recognize saola (pronounced: sow-la) by its two parallel horns with sharp ends that can reach twenty inches in length. Both males and females have horns. They only live in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos. Saolas have beautiful white markings on their faces and large maxillary glands on the muzzle, which they could use to attract mates or mark territory.
Saola prefers life in the dense forests with an adequate supply of running water (near riverbanks). Saola is also called Asian unicorn since it’s hardly seen in nature and people sometimes think of it like it’s an imagined creature.
In some regions, people use saola’s horns as a trophy while other parts of its body serve as ingredients in folk medicine. While scientists and researchers do not know much about saola, it’s currently listed as critically endangered species due to accelerated hunt and habitat loss.
Without further ado, let’s now look at more interesting facts about saola:
1. Researchers observed thirteen captive animals to collect all existing information about saola. Unfortunately, all except two captured animals died within the short period since soala can’t survive a long time in captivity.
2. In 1999, a camera trap set by the Vietnamese government’s Forest Protection Department (SFNC) and WWF first photographed a living saola in the wild. Saolas have since been kept in captivity several times, though only for short periods.
3. A whole new order has been created just for saola because it’s very specific in its behavior and appearance.
1. The saola has two parallel horns with sharp ends that can reach 50cm. With its characteristic white markings on the face and unusually long horns, the saola is a key symbol for biodiversity in Vietnam and Lao. Probably as a means of defense, both males and females have horns.
5. Although little is known about the reproductive behavior of saolas, their pregnancy lasts between eight and nine months and ends with one baby (calf).
6. Males are territorial. Saolas use sticky and smelly substance produced in the maxillary gland to mark the borders of their territory. Males roam over larger areas compared to females.
7. Tigers and crocodiles are considered the worst enemies of saolas since they share one habitat.
8. Saola’s mating season takes place from April to June in Laos, and from February to March in Vietnam. It overlaps with monsoons season.
9. The skin of saola is thick, and it prevents severe injuries when two saolas collide during a fight for females or territory.
10. In Laos and Vietnam, Saola’s range appears to cover roughly 5000 km2, including four nature reserves. Saola inhabits deciduous forests or wet evergreen in eastern Indochina, preferring valleys and rivers. Sightings have been reported from the steep river valleys at 300 to 1800 meters above sea level. Saola tends to migrate down to lowlands during the winters.