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|Average Height||80–90 cm at shoulder|
|Average Weight||90–100 kg|
|Average Length||25 cm tail length|
150 cm total length
Unafraid of mankind
Extremely fearful of dogs
The saola, Vu Quang ox or Asian unicorn, also, infrequently, Vu Quang bovid (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), is one of the world's rarest mammals, a forest-dwelling bovine found only in the Annamite Range of Vietnam and Laos. Cousin to cattle, goats, and antelopes, it is the basis of the mythological Gilled Antelope.
Habitat and distribution[edit | edit source]
The saola inhabits the Annamite Range's moist forests and the eastern Indochina dry and monsoon forests. They have been spotted in steep river valleys at about 300 to 1800 m above sea level. These regions are distant from human settlements, and covered primarily in evergreen or mixed evergreen and deciduous woodlands. The species seems to prefer edge zones of the forests.
Saolas stay in mountain forests during the wet seasons, when water in streams and rivers is abundant, and move down to the lowlands in winter. They are shy and never enter cultivated fields or come close to villages. To date, all known captive saolas have died, leading to the belief that this species cannot live in captivity.
Physical characteristics[edit | edit source]
An adult saola stands at about 80–90 cm at the shoulder, with its entire body length measuring around 150 cm (the tail measures additionally out to about 25 cm) and weighs 90–100 kg. Its hair is straight, short, and surprisingly soft for an animal partly adapted to a montane habitat, and is usually of a medium chocolate brown color (though some have been noted to contain variations of a reddish tone). However, this is not uniform, with both the neck and belly a slightly paler shade, as well as various white markings scattered across its body, such as white patches on the feet, vertical stripes across the cheeks, and splotches on the nose and chin. Also, a medial black dorsal strip extends from between the shoulders down and back to fade out into the top of the tail. The tail itself is tricolored and splits evenly into three horizontal bands of medium brown, cream, and black, with the cream blending into the white band that extends across its rear. It bears round pupils with dark-brown irises and a cluster of white whiskers about 2 cm long that protrude from the end of the chin with a presumably tactile function. It also possesses a long tongue that can extend up to about 16 cm, with its upper surface covered in fine, rearward-pointing barbs, presumably to aid in eating.
All saolas also possess a pair of slightly diverging horns that closely resemble the parallel wooden posts commonly used to support a spinning wheel (which is also the source of their namesake). They are generally dark-brown or black and can measure from about 35–50 cm long; twice the length of their head. The horns of the males and females bear little to no significant variations. Their skin is 1–2 mm thick over most of the body, but thickens near the nape of the neck, and at the upper shoulders, it thickens to 5 mm. This unique adaptation protects them against both predators and rivals' horns during fights.
Local populations report having seen saolas traveling in groups of two or three, rarely more.
The saola possesses a pair of highly developed maxillary glands on either side of its snout, each comprising a rectangular shallow depression of about 1.5 cm deep along the upper muzzle. The depression is covered by sparse, flattened hair with rows of pores scattered throughout. The entirety of each gland is covered by a muscular flap that can raise up to about 3 cm to expose scent glands used in marking territory. It then subsequently can rub the underside against objects, leaving a musky, pungent paste. The saola's colossal scent glands are thought to be the largest of any living mammal.
Behavior and reproduction[edit | edit source]
They walk with a gentle, quiet, slow nature. When they sleep, they have their fore legs tucked under their bodies, necks extended, and the chin resting on the floor. Villagers reported that saolas are active in the mornings, afternoons, and nights, but not when the sun is overhead.
They are calm in the presence of humans, letting humans pet them and eat out of their hands. However, they have an intense fear of dogs. When they feel threatened, they contract defensive positions which involve the snorting and thrusting of their heads forward, exposing their long, straight horns. Their ears are pointed up and straight back with arched backs and stiff postures. Occasionally, they secrete the paste from their maxillary glands as a defensive reaction, which is usually and most commonly observed with dogs. Saola vocalize with bleats.
To mark their territories, saolas open a fleshy flap located over their maxillary glands on either side of the snout and rub it over a rock or place of territory, leaving a strong, musky paste. To defecate and urinate, saolas drop their hind legs and lower the lower body, urinating and defecating separately, which is not new for bovid species.
Saolas spend a significant amount of time grooming themselves. They lick their faces and eyes most often and lead into their shoulders and fore legs. They frequently lick their muzzles to disperse flies, as well.
Very little information is available about their reproductive and pregnancy cycles; however, they give birth to single calves. A female saola held captive died pregnant with a male calf, which was well formed and had distinguishable features. For lack of information and proper resources, scientists estimate the gestation period as similar to those of Tragelaphus species; that is, about 234 days.
Diet[edit | edit source]
They are reported to eat small leafy plants, especially fig leaves and stems, along rivers. While little is known about the full range of their diet, saolas in captivity generally subsist on a diet of leafy plants such as a Asplenium fern species (also known as spleenwort), broad dark-green plants of the Homalomena genus, and various species of broad-leaved shrubs or trees of the Sterculiaceae family. They have shown to have a greater preference for the unidentified plant of the Sterculiaceae family/Sterculia genus. Seldom have they been reported eating during periods of darkness, most likely due to their diurnal nature. The animal seems to have a browsing diet, considering its small incisors.
Related fictional species[edit | edit source]
Only one species based off of the saola is known to exist, being a former cryptid. Though eventually discovered to be simply the Saola, this species was notably featured on an episode of Sightings in the mid-90s. Founder Somarinoa has also created a species based on this mythical cryptid.