Saola

Only recently discovered, the saola is already at risk. Its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the Indochina region.
Saola (a.k.a Vu Quang ox). Four - five month old female at the Forest Inventory and Planning ... rel=
Saola (a.k.a Vu Quang ox). Four - five month old female at the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute Botanical Garden. Hanoi, Vietnam.
© WWF-Canon / David HULSE

Key Facts

  • Common Names

    Saola

  • Scientific Name

    Pseudoryx nghetinhensis

  • Status

    Critically endangered; CITES appendix I

    IUCN

  • Geographic Location

    Indochina

Discovered in May 1992, during a joint survey carried out by the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and WWF in the Vu Quang Nature Reserve (north-central Vietnam), the species remains almost as elusive today.
Physical Description

With its unusually long horns and characteristic white markings on the face, the saola is a strong symbol for biodiversity in Lao and Vietnam.
The saola has two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 50cm. These are found on both males and females, probably as a means of defense.

Size

Weight: 80-100kg
Height: around 85cm

Population & Distribution

Despite the little information available on this saola, there is no doubt that its existence is severely threatened. Since its discovery, it is believed to have rapidly declined in the face of ever-growing hunting pressure. No formal surveys have been undertaken to determine accurate population numbers, but IUCN estimates the total saola population to be less than 750, likely to be much less.

Saola are distributed in scattered locations in the Annamites, along the northwest-southeast Vietnam - Lao border. In Vietnam, the species is distributed from the Ca River in the north to Quang Nam province in the south, but its exact limits are not clearly understood.

Within this area, distribution is patchy. In Lao, there are confirmed reports of the species in the southern part of Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA (National Biodiversity Conservation Area). Reports of saola south of this area include Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Hue and Quang Nam in Vietnam and Sekong in Lao.

Breeding

The species appears to have a fixed breeding season: in Lao, births take place at the beginning of the rains, between April and June. Gestation has been estimated at about 8 months.

Habitat

Major habitat type
Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane

Biogeographic realm
Indo-Malayan Realm

Range States
Lao People's Democratic Republic, Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Geographical Location
Indochina

Ecological Region
Annamite Range Moist Forests

Working together to save the saola

A shrinking distribution

The saola may be a relict species, whose distribution and habitat has been reduced into the present small range by severe climactic shifts during and following the Pleistocene. The species may have been formerly distributed in wet forests at elevations below 400 m, but these areas in Vietnam are now densely populated by people, and are degraded and fragmented. In Lao, there is no wet forest at low elevation.
Current population and distribution

In Vietnam, the saola population was originally estimated at a "few hundred" individuals although this figure is now thought to be too optimistic. In 2001, the Lao population was estimated to be between 70 and 700 individuals, with current estimates favouring the lower range of this figure. There is strong indication that the saola has been experiencing a shrinking distribution for the twenty years until 1995.

Saola are distributed in scattered locations in the Annamites, along the northwest-southeast Vietnam - Lao border. In Vietnam, the species is distributed from the Ca River in the north to Quang Nam province in the south, but its exact limits are not clearly understood.

Within this area, distribution is patchy. In Lao, there are confirmed reports of the species in the southern part of Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA (National Biodiversity Conservation Area). Reports of saola south of this area include Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Hue and Quang Nam in Vietnam and Sekong in Lao.
This profile has been reviewed by Barney Long, Project Manager, MOSAIC Programme, WWF-Indochina.
 / ©: William Robichaud
Female saola, Lak Xao, Bolikhamxay Province, Laos, 1996.
© William Robichaud

What are the main threats?

The main threats to the saola are hunting and fragmentation of its range through habitat loss.

Snares set in the forest for wild boar, sambar or barking deer, also trap saola. Locals set some snares for subsistence use and crop protection, but recent increases in lowland people hunting to supply the illegal trade in wildlife has led to a massive increase in hunting pressure.
In the north of their range, saola are hunted for the horns which have become prized trophies.

In the Annamites, rapid and extensive infrastructure development is underway as the government attemtps to reduce the high levels of rural poverty.
 / ©: William Robichaud
Patrol team with wire snares collected in saola habitat, central Laos (Nakai-Nam Theun National Protected Area), 2009.
© William Robichaud

What is WWF doing?

WWF has been involved with the protection of the species since its discovery. WWF's work to protect the saola focuses on research, community based forest management, capacity building and law enforcement strengthening.

WWF has been involved in the setting up and management of protected areas and continues to work on projects in the region:

How you can help

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    Did you know?

      • Saola have been reported to break small saplings in half by wedging them between their horns and suddenly twisting their head.
      • To date, scientists have categorically documented saola in the wild on only 4 occasions.

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