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. 

“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.

Said Akchousanh Rasphone, Conservation and Science Director for Wildlife Conservation Society – Lao PDR Program: “WCS has long been involved in Saola conservation through collaborations with the Saola Working Group and currently with the Saola Foundation. We see importance in immediate and intensive search for this iconic species of the Anamites as a fundamental step in our efforts to conserving Saola.” 

Download the Position Statement here.


Additional quotes

Carolina Soto-Navarro, National Coordinator of IUCN SSC Saola Working Group Viet Nam 
“We urgently need to coordinate an unprecedented level of detection efforts, foster an open collaboration and bridge the gap between science and conservation if we are to save Saola from extinction. This also include bringing international expertise and learning lessons from positive experiences around the world on rescuing species from the brink of extinction before it is too late.”
James Burton, Chair of IUCN SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group
“I encourage all international donors to the Saola conservation cause and our implementing partners in Viet Nam and Laos to contribute urgently to increasing the detection effort for Saola.”

Van Ngoc Thinh, CEO WWF-Vietnam 
“We are proud to be the leading organisation in Viet Nam driving and prioritising Saola conservation efforts in the country through our collaboration with the IUCN Saola Working Group,” said Thinh Van Ngoc, CEO WWF-Vietnam. “Our main efforts focus on enhancing collaboration and strengthening the in-country network of national stakeholders involved in Saola conservation. We do this through open communication and co-development approaches, leveraging and securing funding for conservation activities across the Saola range, and ensuring a strong and sound scientific-base to our practice.”

Lorraine Scotson, CEO of the Saola Foundation
“This is an opportunity to save a species from extinction. Saving Saola is a resource problem, not a technical one,” said Lorraine Scotson, CEO of the Saola Foundation. “We understand the scale of the problem, and what it will take to find and to save Saola. Our challenge is to raise the funds we need in order to mobilise the search intensity called for by the SSC Position Statement. For this, we need the world to help!”