The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) signed a cooperation agreement in Hanoi on March 28 on the building of a protection and breeding programme for the saola, one of the rarest and most threatened mammals on the planet. 


Saola discovered in 1999 in Vietnam (Source: WWF)

The signing ceremony took place at a seminar which also introduced a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the programme. 

Speaking at the event, head of the Department of Protective Forests for Special Use Management Tran The Lien said Vietnam is well known by the international community for its biodiversity with special ecological systems, especially various species located in special-use forests. 

In 2006, the Government issued action plans to protect several species, including elephants. By 2012, efforts to develop the elephant population were proved effective, laying a foundation for the preservation of tigers, bears, turtles, and other reptiles until 2020 with a vision to 2030. 

Lien also urged the issuing of urgent policies and action plans to protect the saola, which is now at high risk of extinction. 

IUCN representative William Robichaud took the occasion to call for public involvement in the effort. 

The saola, scientifically known as Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, is dubbed the Asian Unicorn because it is so rarely seen, looks like an antelope in appearance, and is recognised by its two parallel horns with sharp ends which can reach up to 50 cm in length. 

The species was first discovered in May 1992 by a joint team from the MARD and the World Wide Fund for Nature during a trip surveying Vu Quang National Park in the central province of Ha Tinh, near Vietnam’s border with Laos. 

Scientists then went on to find an additional 20 creatures later that year. They were also discovered around Truong Son range in provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam, and other Lao localities. 

At present, there are saola preservation areas in Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, and Quang Nam provinces. –VNA