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Captive Saola, Vietnam (William Robichaud)

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)

Behaviour and ecology

Scientist have recorded only 11 living saolas in the wild, so the majority of behavioural and biological data on this species comes from a single captive female and local villagers’ tales.4 Saola are thought to be generally solitary, possibly territorial, and seen as pairs only when mating and when mothers are accompanied by young.1,5 There does not appear to be any noticeable sexual dimorphism.5 Males’ horns are expected to be used in mating conflicts, based on the double-thickness (5 mm) skin across the nape of the neck and between the shoulders like a shield.5 Saola breed August to November, and with a 33-week gestation time the births to coincide with the onset of the monsoons in April through June. Individuals have been recorded bleating without obvious cause, and are known to snort when threatened. The many scratched on saola horns and observations of twig breaking suggest their horns may aidsome social or sexual communication. However, the unusually enlarged scent glands indicate that chemical communication is important, for example in marking of territories.5,6

Saola appear to be active during both night and day, though locals have reported most activity in the morning and late afternoon. They migrate seasonally from summer high altitudes to winter low altitudes of only 200 m, perhaps following water availability as upland streams dry up in winter.2 Males appear to have small home ranges (about 1 sq km) and females range much more widely. Observed using its relatively small incisors to browse on small leafy plants, especially fig leaves and stems found along river banks. They have been seen drinking large quantities of water at one time, for example nearly 60 draughts within 4 minutes.4 Shy in the wild, they are surprisingly tame around humans, making them easy prey for hunters.4 When threatened, the saola faces the enemy, arches its back and lowers its head so its horn tips point at the attacker, snorting and flaring its maxillary glands all the while. The horn cores extend close to the horn tips, this much bone suggesting the horns serve as serious weapons.2,3,5 Predators are thought to include the leopard, tiger and, based on other bovids with a similar defence stance, the dhole.  

Did you know?

  • The saola has sometimes been called the ‘antelope with ‘gills’’ by befuddled media men, because of their unusually large maxillary glands under their flap of skin.
  • The saola’s tongue is so long it could lick its eyes, an extreme feat for any mammal!  

Additional information

  • IUCN Red List report
  • UltimateUngulate page
  • ARKive page
  • Wikipedia page
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