Habitat loss threatens Vietnam 'unicorn'

2012-02-15 15:58
Hanoi - A rare animal known as the Asian unicorn is under threat from loss of forest habitat, and wildlife officials are trying to protect it in Vietnam's central forests.

One of the world's rarest mammals, the saola is a large bovine with long, straight horns that is thought to live only in the Annamite Mountains between Vietnam and Laos.

The species was first defined in 1992, after three skulls were discovered in hunter's homes, and has become a symbol of biodiversity in the region. The saola is shy and does not survive long in captivity.

The popular name for it among hill people in Laos translates to "polite animal", because it moves quietly through the forest and does not enter cultivated lands.

The antelope-like animal, sometimes called a unicorn because of its elusiveness and gentle nature, has never been sighted in the wild by a scientist.

Authorities are building forest stations for rangers in Vietnam's Thua Thien-Hue province to protect the saola, local official Le Truong Luu said.

"We expect the project will help preserve the saola and create jobs for people in the region," he said.

Germany has provided €7m ($9.2m) to the effort to protect the Tay Saola and A Tep forest reserves.

Its numbers have been declining due to hunting and habitat loss. Estimates for those left in the wild vary from 70 to 1 000. There are likely fewer than 500, according to the WWF.

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