Beautiful… Mysterious… Critically Endangered.
The scientific discovery of the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) in the forests of Vietnam in 1992 was one of the most spectacular zoological finds of the 20th century.
The species is endemic to the Annamite Mountains, a global biodiversity hotspot along the border of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). Saola are solitary ungulates in their own genus within the Bovidae. The Saola’s genus name comes from its physical resemblance to the oryxes of the Arabian Peninsula and Africa.
Little more than two decades after its discovery, this beautiful, enigmatic animal may be the most endangered large mammal in the world. Due to Saola’s rarity, elusiveness and a lack of investment in its conservation, precise population estimates are not yet possible. But we know that at best no more than a few hundred survive, and the population could now be in the tens. Saola is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and ranks as # on EDGE. In fact, IUCN and the Zoological Society of London recently recognized Saola as among the 100 species of plants or animals on earth most in need of increased conservation attention.
Conservation of Saola will also advance conservation of the Annamite Mountains, one of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots. Since the Saola’s discovery there, two new species of muntjacs, a primate, a rabbit, several birds and a rodent from a mammalian family thought to have been extinct for more then 5 million years have been found in the Annamites; this is a pace of large vertebrate discovery unmatched anywhere in the world in perhaps the last 100 years. In addition, other highly distinctive and threatened endemics were already known from the Annamites, including beautiful primates such as the various doucs and crested gibbons. Conservation of Saola will help save these distinctive and threatened species, as well.
In summary, few animals in the world, if any, share the Saola’s combination of four attributes:
1. Phylogenetic distinctiveness (a monospecific genus).
2. Degree of endangerment (IUCN Red List Critically Endangered, and there are none in captivity).
3. Scarcity of conservation attention.
4. Conservation ‘flagship’ of a global biodiversity hotspot (Annamite Mountains).
Consequently, for institutions that wish to make a significant, incremental contribution to global biodiversity conservation, perhaps no species presents a more compelling opportunity than Saola.