April 18, 2011

Nature Reserve Set Aside For Asian ‘Unicorn’

A wildlife official said Monday that a nature reserve has been set aside in central Vietnam for the critically endangered sail, raising hope for the antelope-like species' survival.

The saola looks like a small deer or antelope with two horns, but is locally known as an Asian "unicorn." 

They are thought to number from a few dozen to a few hundred, and are threatened by poachers who want its horns.  Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that none have survived in captivity.

Pham Thanh Lam, director of the Forest Bureau in the province, said that the land set aside last week in the central province of Quang Nam is rich in bio-diversity and home to an estimated 50 to 60 saolas.

"For ethnic minority people, hunting is a way of earning their living," Lam said. "They would not spare the saola, so it's necessary to create conditions for them to earn their living to minimize hunting for wild animals including saola."

Saola was discovered in the forests in central Vietnam in 1992.  The species was descried as a primitive member of the bovine family, which includes cattle, sheep and antelopes.

"If no reserve activities are launched now, the danger of the saolas' extinction is clear," he said.

Lam said that the efforts to protect the species will include education campaigns and jobs, including patrolling the nature reserve, that provide stable income.

The reserve of 39,000 acres is in the Annamite mountains along the Laos border.  Another reserve is in neighboring Thua Thien Hue province.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the elusive creature was seen for the first time in a decade in August, but it died a few days after villagers in Laos captured it.