Nature Reserve in Vietnam Protects the Asian Unicorn

You might get a glimpse of the rare saola there.

Jul 5, 2021
Nature Reserve in Vietnam Protects the Asian Unicorn | You might get a glimpse of the rare saola there.

Ask any little girl and they will likely tell you that their dream is to see a unicorn in real-life. Although these creatures are typically a thing of fiction, the elusive Asian unicorn or saola might be spotted in a recently formed Dong Chau-Khe Nuoc Trong Nature Reserve in Vietnam.

The saola were first discovered in 1992, according to a University of Leeds news release, and are one of the rarest species. Its rarity is what earned the species its Asian unicorn name. They live in the Khe Nuoc Trong forests of the Annamite Mountains, in the Quang Binh province in central Vietnam – the last significant lowland forests in Vietnam – and Laos.

The saola resembles an antelope but its composition is most similar to bison or cows. According to the World Wildlife Fund saolas have two straight horns that can grow as long as 20 inches. These horns are found on both males and females. Saola’s also have white marks on their faces and it is believed that only 750 are left in the wild.

In August 2020, the Vietnamese government legislated to protect this 22,132-hectare area, granting it the title of Nature Reserve, which is the most serious level of protection in Vietnam according to MongaBay. With the Dong Chau-Khe Nuoc Trong Nature Reserve now protected by the government, there is hope that the saola will be able to increase their numbers and thrive.

This move also protects the saola and 40 other globally threatened species including muntjac deer, Sunda pangolin, Annamite striped rabbits, and the southern white-cheeked gibbon.

“The new status puts biodiversity protection as a key objective – the level that its outstanding biodiversity deserves. It is an inspiring achievement after more than a decade of hard work. We will now be able to access [a] higher level]of funds for conservation from local as well as national governments,” Pham Tuan Anh, the Viet Nature Conservation Centre co-founder and president told the University of Leeds.

The university has been working closely with Viet Nature to preserve the forests in Vietnam and there are more benefits than just preserving species. “Our research has shown that protecting and restoring these forests will remove 50,000 [British] tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, making a vital contribution to Vietnam's efforts to reduce climate change,” Suzanne Stas, a PhD researcher from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds said in the press release.

While no saola has actually been sighted since 2013, an increase in numbers could make them easier to find. While there is no guarantee, maybe sometime soon, little girls’ dreams will become a reality with more sightings of the Asian unicorns.

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Jackie Schindler teaches EFL to students between the ages of 5-15. She is passionate about making English relevant, fun and memorable. She always tries to look on the bright side in every situation. She is an avid reader, writer, traveler and always on the hunt for the best iced coffee.