Sao la photographed in the wild forest for the first time in 15 years

By Kim Oanh |

(QNO) - On September 7, a Sao la (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) was caught by camera trap system when moving along the stream in a remote valley of the Truong Son Range (Annamite range, Central region of  Vietnam) after 15 years of absence in Vietnam.

An image of a saola was taken on September 7 when it was moving along the stream in a remote valley of the Truong Son Range.
An image of a Sao la was taken on September 7 when it was moving along the stream in a remote valley of the Truong Son Range.

“When we first looked at the photos of the Sao la, we could not believe our eyes. We are really excited because Sao la is the holy grail for the Southeast Asian conservationists. This is a breathtaking discovery. Some people believed that Saola was gone from Vietnam forever. These images renew the hope of recovering this species,” said Dr Van Ngoc Thinh, Director of the Vietnam World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

 “These are the most important wild animal photographs in Asia, and perhaps in the world in at least the past decade”, said William Robichaud, Coordinator of the Saola Working Group of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Sao la was discovered in 1992 (a skull with unusual horns in a hunter's home) by a team of experts from Vietnam’s Ministry of  Forest (now Ministry of  Agriculture and Rural Development), Sao la is one of the world's rarest mammals, cousin to the cow, goat and antelope in appearance, dubbed the Asian Unicorn because it is so rarely seen, is recognized by two parallel horns with sharp ends which can reach 50 centimeters in length.

As a cousin to cattle but recalling an antelope in appearance, the Sao la, dubbed the The last confirmed record of a Sao la was in Laos in 2010. People in Bolikhamxay Province captured a Sao la, but it subsequently died.  In Vietnam, the last sighting of a Sao la in the wild was in 1998.

Fifteen years had passed since the last time the species was last seen in the wild, the Sao la’s ecology or behavior is still very little known. The difficulty in detecting the elusive animal has prevented scientists from making a precise population estimate.

According to WWF, there may be a few hundred or only a few dozens of Sao la surviving in the dense forests along the Vietnam - Laos border.

By Kim Oanh