|Saola in its native habitat|
It's been twenty years since the mysterious saola was first discovered in the jungles of the Annamite Range in Vietnam and Laos. But now, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that the threat of poaching in both the countries may be driving this strange and unique creature to extinction. The saola, whose name means "spindle-horned" in Tai and Lao languages, came into spotlight in 1992 when surveyors from the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry and the WWF found skulls of this elusive species in the local villages. DNA tests have shown that the creature is related to cattle, even though its spiral horns give it resemblance to either a wild goat or an antelope. The result of this discovery gave the animal nicknames such as the Vu Quang ox and the Asian unicorn. It is estimated that the current population of the saola varies from ten to several hundred animals, but a meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2009 concluded that the population has plunged drastically.
|A villager with a saola skull in Vietnam's Bolikhamxay Province.|
My feeling about this news is that it is a race against time to save this unique creature from the brink of extinction. The proof shown in this article is stupendous. According to Asian species expert Barney Long of the WWF, interviews with the local communities have confirmed that sightings of the saola have reduced over the past twenty years. In addition to that, poaching has reached an epidemic peak in the Annamite mountains and even though this creature is not an intended target for poachers, it is nonetheless captured in their snare traps. In spite of a recent closure of 200 hunting camps and a removal of 12,500 snares, poaching is still running rampant in the region. Mr. Long further added that in Vietnam, poaching is a by-product of its economic development. The rise of middle-class has spurred the demand for rare and endangered species in the local cuisine. For this reason, it is crucial to help save and protect Southeast Asia's biodiversity no matter what it takes. Vietnam had earlier lost its rhinoceros to extinction, but animals like the saola are one of few that are endemic exclusively to the nation and the surrounding region. Without these animals, it would be as if part of Southeast Asia's biodiversity would be lost too.
|Close up of the saola|
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