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Captive Saola, Vietnam (William Robichaud)

Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis)

Other names: Vu Quang Ox; Sun Duong [Ha Tinh province]; Yang [Laotian province]; Saht-supahp [Hmone province]; Yang [used on the Vietnamese side by Bru Van Kieu people in Quang Binh and Quang Tri provinces]; Xoong Xoor [used by the Katu people].

Sao La in Thai means “spinning wheel posts”  as the Saola's horns resemeble the posts supporting a traditional Thai spinning wheel. Sun duong is in fact Vietnamese for Serow, but was used for Saola by Vietnamese people who had no specific name for the animal. Xoong Xoor can be translated roughly as 'fern-beast'. The scientific epithet nghetinhensis refers to the two Vietnamese provinces forming the saola’s range, Nghe An and Ha Tinh, while Pseudoryx acknowledges the animal’s similarities with the oryx. Hmong natives call it saht-supahp, Lao for “the polite animal”, because it moves quietly through the forest.

Status

Critically Endangered – CR A2cd+3cd+4cd; C2a(i)

Population estimate

Unkown. Population is sustpect to be decreasing.

Ex situ: A few hundred individuals are estimated to remain in the wild, but counts are difficult in the remote and rugged terrain and only 11 individuals have been recorded alive, the rest counted from sets of horns.  

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Distribution and habitat preference

The saola is only found in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve, spanning Vietnam and Loas, with total known range only 4,000 square kilometres.

The saola has been found in evergreen forests with little or no dry season, ranging all altitudes in the Annamite mountains and keeping predominantly to steep land. 

Characteristics

Statistics: Average 85 cm at the shoulder and approximately 90 kg. Longevity is unknown, but one female studied was estimated to be 8–9 years’ old.

The species is defined by, primarily, its long (av. 44.2 cm), slender, nearly straight horns with a slight curve backwards (Dung et al., 1993; Schaller and Rabinowitz, 1995), as well as what are considered the largest maxillary (scent) glands among living mammals, located under a flap just in front of the eye (Dung et al., 1993; Robichaud, 1998). This gland secretes a thick grey-green paste with a foul, pungent musk (Robichaud, 1998). Compact neck and body, delicately shaped face with narrow muzzle and high-arching nasal bones (Dung et al., 1993; Schaller and Rabinowitz, 1995), a soft thin coat of reddish brown with a black stripe along the back and distinctive buff-white patches and stripes across the face, rump and legs (Robichaud, 1998; Dung et al., 1993; Schaller and Rabinowitz, 1995).

Conservation threats (IUCN, 2004; Dung et al., 1994)

  • Severely threatened by habitat destruction, as forests are logged for timber and small-scale agriculture.  
  • Fragmentation of remaining forest, resulting in reduced genetic diversity and easier access for hunters.
  • Hunting throughout their range for meat and facial glands used in traditional medicines.
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