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A saola in the wild snapped by a camera trap in September 2012

The saola or Asian unicorn (scientific name : Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is a species of antelope native to southeast Asia. It is one of the rarest species on Earth, and one of the most critically endangered animals. It numbers in the tens.

Description[edit | edit source]

A fully-grown saola stands at about 80–90 cm at the shoulder. Its body length measures about 150 cm with the tail measuring about 25 cm. It weighs 90–100 kg.

Both male and female saola have two sharply-pointed, smooth parallel horns on their heads. These horns can grow to 50 cm in length. The name "saola" refers to the horns, and means "spinning wheel supports".

The color of the saola ranges from chestnut brown, to red, to almost black. A dark, narrow stripe runs along the animal's back. The fluffy tail and legs are black. The face has white markings.

Range and habitat[edit | edit source]

The saola lives in the moist, evergreen forests of the Annamite mountains along the border of Vietnam and Laos, usually at mid-altitude range (between 400 meters and 1,000 meters above sea level).

There is plenty of running water in these mountains. The saolo stay in the highlands during the summer, but descend to the lowlands in winter when their highland water sources run dry. They avoid villages and farmer's fields.

Behavior[edit | edit source]

The saola is a gentle animal, and will allow humans to pet it. The animal is most active during the day. They stay out of view when predators are roaming in the night. Saola are loners, though they sometimes gather in small herds of two or three animals.

The males are probably territorial, but roam further abroad than the females. They mark their territories with a sticky, smelly liquid secreted from their maxillary glands. The males may roam to search for water supplies.

Predators and other threats[edit | edit source]

It is unknown which animals prey upon the saola, but it is likely tigers and crocodiles do. The greatest threat to the saola is humans. Local people have hunted the animal for its trophy horns. Clearing the land for farms has restricted the animal's range.

Life cycle[edit | edit source]

Saola breed at the start of the rainy season in February and March in Vietnam and April through June in Laos. Females likely give birth to one calf after a seven or eight-month gestation period. Females have four nipples for feeding their young. Saolo are believed to live eight to eleven years.

Diet[edit | edit source]

Saola are browsers. Rather than standing in one place to feed, they walk along munching on fig leaves and the leaves of other trees and shrubs. They probably eat fruits, berries, grasses, and other plant matter that grows close to the ground. They stay near a source of running water.

Endangered species[edit | edit source]

The saola is a critically endangered species. Although laws forbid hunting the animal, locals sometimes do hunt the animals for their horns. Saola are also caught in snares and traps set for other animals.

When scientists discovered the saola in 1992, it was believed that the species numbered about 250 individuals. That number has dropped sharply since, due to farming and other human developments in the animal's historic lowland range. A small reserve in Vietnam protects the declining population.

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