Saola: the Asian Unicorn

by Dan Stout

(Image shamefully swiped from the EDGE Blog)

As often as I mention mysterious, unknown creatures on this blog, I thought it'd be fun to remind ourselves just how incredible the diverse range of known species is. A great example is the Saola, which twenty years ago moved from the realm of legend into scientific recognition.

Found only along the Vietnam/Laos border, the Saola is the most recent large mammal whose existence has been recognized by western science. It was discovered in 1992 when a joint team of the Vietnamese Forestry Ministry and the WWF were conducting a survey of the Vu Quang Nature reserve. The scientists found three sets of long horns in hunter's dwellings; they knew that what they were seeing was of "great significance", and in a letter to the journal Nature, they announced their discovery.

Standing just under 3 feet high, Saola are stocky creatures which can weigh close to 200 lbs. Although resembling an antelope, they are more closely related to cattle. Known as "Asian Unicorns" due to their elusive nature,   (there are still very few photographs of Saola in the wilderness, mostly coming from camera traps), a quick glance at the photo shows that from the side, it does appear to only have a single horn. 

The story of the Saola is an inspiration not only to fans of legendary beasts, but to anyone who is astonished by the mysteries and beauty found all around us.

If you'd like to contribute to preserving creatures like the Saola, or just want to read more about the very real and amazing animals which share the world with us, check out the EDGE blog (Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered). They highlight animals which have unique characteristics, and which are not widely known. 

by Dan Stout