Unicorn encounters are known to be rare. Meeting the Saola Asian unicorn is probably even rarer than meeting the magical creature known as the unicorn.
How much does the Asian unicorn actually resemble its mythical cousin? Read the 5 Asian unicorn facts and learn more about this mysterious but real unicorn.
Featured image credit: Photo of the Saola by Bill Robichaud. The Saola in the featured image is Martha, one of the few Asian unicorns ever lived in captivity. Robichaud studied Martha in 1996. Unfortunately, she died in captivity after only 15 days.
1. The Saola Asian Unicorn Was Not Discovered Until 1992.
A survey team found the new bovid species, Saola, in 1992. A local hunter gave the team a skull of an animal with long, pointed horns.
On 17th July 1992, the WWF officially announced the discovery of a new species. The Saola was the first new large mammal species found in 50 years. Finding the Saola was one of the most astonishing zoological discoveries of the 20th century.
2. The Asian Unicorn Has Two Long Horns.
Even though the Saola is called the “Asian unicorn”, in reality it has two horns instead of just one. Both male and female Saolas have two long, pointed horns. The horns can grow up to 20 inches (50 cm) long.
The name Saola actually means “spindlehorn”, because the Saola’s horns resemble the two wooden posts used for supporting a spinning wheel.
The Saola looks a lot like an antelope because of its long horns. The animal’s body resembles the body of a deer, but it is a bovid. When you look at the Saola’s gentle face, you can tell it does have cow-like features. Its fur is brown, red or black. The Saola has white patterns on its head and ankles.
The Asian unicorn is a little smaller than the classic unicorn. The height of Saola is approximately 2 ft 8 inches (85 cm) and it weighs up to 220 lbs (100 kg).
3. The Saola is One of the World’s Rarest Large Mammals.
The Saola could be the largest animal in the world never seen in the wild by a scientist. That’s right, no biologist in the world has ever seen a Saola in the nature.
The rarity of the Saola has given it its nickname, “the Asian unicorn”. At the moment, it is estimated there are a couple of hundred of Saolas left at the most. The exact number is unknown, and the real number of Saolas could be as low as 20. The Saola is a critically endangered species.
Currently there are no Saolas living in captivity. In the past, Saolas have been captured, but only for short periods. None of them have survived long in captivity. Breeding Saolas in captivity has been suggested as a solution to increase their number. However, the rarity of the Asian unicorn makes it difficult to put this plan into action. The last time anyone saw a Saola in the wild was in 2013.
A group of scientists even investigated the possibility of cloning Saolas as a last resort to rescue the species. Again, finding female Saolas in order to clone them proved to be challenging.
Hunting is the main cause for the decreased population of Saolas. They are caught in traps set for other animals, like wild boars. But the local people also hunt Saolas on purpose; unfortunately, they value catching such a rare animal.
In addition to humans, Asian unicorns have natural enemies, such as tigers and crocodiles.
4. Saolas Only Live in Laos and Vietnam.
Saolas only live on the Annamite range in Laos and Vietnam. They like to stay near small mountain streams with evergreen vegetation. This is similar to unicorns’ favorite habitats; unicorns are also known to live in forests and mountain areas.
The Asian unicorn is herbivorous and finds its favorite foods in the river banks. The Saola enjoys eating fig leaves, leaves of other trees, fruits and berries.
In Vietnam, there are Saola reserves in Thua-Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces to protect this endangered species.
5. Like Unicorns, Saolas Live in Small Groups.
Unicorns are known to live in small family groups. The Saola Asian unicorn has a similar lifestyle; the females live with their young ones, while the male Saolas prefer solitary life.
The gestation period of the Saola lasts for approximately 8 months; almost as long as human pregnancy. Normally, only one baby calf is born between April and June.
While the Saola does not live in China, it is believed the Asian unicorn might have inspired the Chinese unicorn myth.
The Saola Asian Unicorn – Still a Mystery
The Asian unicorn Saola still remains a mystery to science. Because of its rarity, no biologist has ever met the Asian unicorn in the wild. The species was not even found until in 1992.
This critically endangered species could be the most endangered large mammal in the world; you could be more likely to meet the classic mythical unicorn than the Asian unicorn.
The Saola resembles the classic unicorn in many ways, not just because of its rarity. Just like the unicorn, the Saola enjoys itself in forests and lush mountain areas. Unicorns are known to live in small family groups, and so is the Saola.
While the Asian unicorn Saola has two horns instead of one, and it has never lived in China, it is believed it might have even inspired the Chinese unicorn myth.
And of course, the Saola Asian unicorn is very hard to spot, just like the classic unicorn. While the Asian unicorn is proven to be a real animal, it remains mysterious and extremely rare. There is only a little information available on the Saola’s living habits.
Hopefully the efforts to conserve the Asian unicorn will succeed, and this real-life unicorn species will remain to enrich the nature in the future. The world needs diversity, and it definitely needs unicorns!
Do you have any thoughts or additional information to share about the Asian unicorn Saola? Please let us know in the comment section below!