Scientists are intensifying their efforts to locate an endangered animal that is so rare, it’s been called the “The” ‘Asian Unicorn’.
Astoundingly for a mammal, the soala was only discovered in 1992 – from its droppings found in Vietnam’s Vu Quang Nature Reserve – and has remained characteristically elusive since then.
It is a forest-dwelling bovine that stands at just over 30inches.
Scientists worry that if they can’t find one and transport it to a special facility to reproduce, the mammal will eventually die.
Despite enhanced patrolling campaigns at nature reserves in the Annamite mountains – a range that sprawls 680 miles across Vietnam, Laos and north-east Cambodia – poaching is on the rise.
Minh Nguyen is a Colorado State University PhD student. Guardian : “Thousands of people use snares, so there are millions of them in the forest, which means populations of large mammals and some birds have no way to escape and are collapsing throughout the Annamites”.
A soala has never been seen by a biologist in the wild. However, cameras hidden in trees were able to capture it nine years ago.
Images of the distinctive features include large, Thompson gazelle-like facial marks and sharp white horns.
Although it is mythical in size, it still has two horns.
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The Wisconsin-based Saola Foundation has to be creative to locate the mysterious creatures. They have started training dogs to detect soala scents.
Any suspected saola samples (faeces and fur) found in the mountains will have their DNA tested.
Experts could start to search the area for soala if a positive result is achieved.
Any creatures they find would then be taken to a Vietnamese government-backed breeding centre at Bạch Mã national park in central Vietnam.
Finding and capturing a soala is only the beginning. After that, it will need to be maintained alive long enough to allow reproduction.
Given the fact that until now all captive saola have died, the prospects of this are far from guaranteed – some experts even speculate the animal may be unable to survive in captive conditions.