On the border of Laos and Vietnam roams a creature so elusive that proof of its existence has only surfaced a handful of times since its discovery. This majestic species is the Saola, known as the “Asian unicorn” because of its unusually long, straight horns and near mythological status. Researchers discovered the Saola in 1994, but not in the species’ natural range in the Annamite Mountains—and not even alive. Instead, scientists came across the skull of a Saola in a hunter’s house in a remote village in Vietnam. The unusual horns tipped the scientists off: they had found evidence of an entirely new species. The astonishing finding marked the first discovery of a large mammal in 50 years and spurred conservationists to action.
Saola live in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam and Laos, where their biggest threat is hunting—they get caught in the snares set out for other animals. Since the species’ scientific discovery, it has declined to a status of Critically Endangered and is now one of the most endangered mammals in the world. GWC works alongside the Saola Working Group (SWG) to conserve the Saola and its habitat.
Adopting a Zero Loss goal for Saola. GWC is working with SWG to remove hunting snares and reduce illegal hunting in areas where Saola occur. GWC and our partners aim for zero loss of the Saola, which means our goal is to prevent poaching of any Saola (and other animals) in our target areas—a lofty goal. One indicator is the presence or absence of snares, which are indiscriminately set on the forest floor, targeting any large animals walking by. We aim for zero snares in our intensively patrolled areas, which are areas that we have identified as being key for rare species such as the Saola, Large-antlered Muntjac, and others, where the loss of any individuals could be drastic for the long-term persistence of the species.
Monitoring Saola and other species in the Annamites. Conservationists know very little about the elusive Saola. GWC aims to learn about their natural history and how best to give these icons of biodiversity a fighting chance at survival. In 2015, camera traps at Xe Sap National Protected Area failed to capture video of the Saola, but they did manage to get footage of other similarly enigmatic species, helping provide a holistic view of Saola habitat and ecosystems.
Protecting Saola habitat. GWC and SWG advocate for the conservation of the globally significant Annamite Mountains as a whole, leveraging Saola as a flagship for conservation of the biodiversity of the Annamite Mountains.
Raising funds for Saola conservation. SWG works with the Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, on a project called Catching Hope, which takes the deadly animal snares collected in Southeast Asian forests and uses them to create dream catchers and key chains. The program then sells the crafts to raise money for individuals in Vietnam and Laos who are helping remove the snares that are killing Saola as by-catch.
Hunting—Saola get caught in the snares set out for other animals
Saola Working Group