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Saola in the Media

IUCN SSC experts urge for immediate action to find Saola before it’s too late

IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) released today a Position Statement on the critical need for greater search effort for Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), calling to bring expertise, funding and innovation together to save one of the world’s rarest species.

Discovered by western science as recently as 1992, this elusive species is found only in the dense forested landscapes of the Annamite Mountain range and adjacent lowlands that straddle Vietnam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR). The Saola, which has not been detected conclusively since 2013, is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Based on expert opinion and threat assessments, realistic estimates are of fewer than 100 individuals.

The Saola —resembling an antelope with backward-curving horns— is actually related to wild cattle. It is unique and the only species of its kind, not just in Asia, but globally. What is known about this animal derives from local knowledge, a few camera trap photos and a handful of animals that survived briefly when captured. 

A saola in the wild. Text on image: IUCN Position Statement On the Conservation of Saola.

Wild saola camera-trapped in central Laos (Bolikhamxay Province) in 1999.

Photo: Ban Vangban village & Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Remarkable that an animal the size of the Saola, 80-90 cm at the shoulder and around 90 kg in weight, was unknown to scientists until 1992. It shows how much we still need to learn about the animals, fungi and plants that we share Earth with. Saving the Saola from extinction requires learning, at the very least, how many are left and where they are, so that the governments of Vietnam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic are able to put in place effective measures to counter its major threats”, said Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

According to research leads by IUCN SSC groups, less than a third of potential Saola habitat has been surveyed and of that only 2% of that has been intensively assessed specifically for this species. Expert opinion and available evidence suggest that Saola, while extremely rare, persists in the wild, but probably in only low numbers although spread across several sites. In the face of escalating threats, such as snaring, a much more intensive search effort is urgently needed

“Resourcing is a key issue in the case of finding and conserving the Saola,” said Nerissa Chao, Director of the IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership. “It is clear that search efforts must be significantly ramped up in scale and intensity if we are to save this species from extinction. For this to happen, there needs to be sustained financial investment in targeted locations.”

Increasing intensity and coverage of survey efforts is an essential element of the ongoing IUCN One Plan approach for Saola, which engages all international and in-country stakeholders in an integrated process to species conservation through coordinated management strategies and conservation actions. This increased collaborative effort and consolidation of resources underpins the survival of the Saola.

Download the Position Statement here.

New podcast: How to save saola – an animal that no biologist has ever seen

Hi there,

Have you ever heard of saola – possibly the most threatened mammal on the planet (fewer than 50 animals live in the wild)?

Well, I haven’t. Not until I interviewed William Robichaud from The Saola Foundation.

In this new episode we talk about:

  • Why saola is on the brink of extinction

  • Why it is so hard to find saola and what methods they will use to find it and capture it

  • Why captive breeding program is necessary for the survival

  • How saola search can benefit other endangered species in the Annamite Mountains (Laos/Vietnam)

Saola on a colorful background

My favorite quotes:

“When saola was discovered I just kept expecting somebody to come and take over saola conservation because large mammals weren’t my area of expertise and nobody ever did.”

“People assume that there is only a finite amount of money for nature conservation but I don’t believe it’s true. The world is full of money and actually very little of that money is going to wildlife conservation.”

I hope that this episode will perk you because there’s still hope for saola!


Veronika Perková

Journalist & Copywriter