A rare mammal was sighted in Vietnam for the first time in 15 years, bringing with it hope that the species is making a comeback and is not on the verge of extinction.
The international conservation group, WWF, said on Wednesday the mammal, known as the Saola (a long-horned ox), was photographed in a forest in Central Vietnam in September.
“This is a breathtaking discovery and renews hope for the recovery of the species,” Van Ngoc Thinh, Vietnam’s country director at the WWF, said in a statement.
The rare mammal, which was discovered in the high mountainous terrain of Vietnam close to the border with Laos in 1992, was feared extinct.
More than three decades ago a joint team of WWF and Vietnam’s forest control agency found a skull with unusual horns in a hunter’s home.
At the time, the WWF labeled the finding the largest mammal discovery in science in more than 50 years.
According to Dang Dinh Nguyen, director of the Saola natural reserve in central province of Quang Nam, the rare mammal was last photographed in the wild in 1998.
The area in which the Saola was spotted is known for illegal animal hunting and the WWF has recruited forest guards in an effort to fight the activities aimed at deer and civets, a delicacy in the Southeast Asian country.
Illegal hunting is the biggest threat to the survival of the endangered species, reads the statement.
Not much is known about the elusive Saola since it has been difficult for scientists to detect the presence of the rare mammal, who hides in the dense forests of Vietnam.
endangered saola, 'Asian unicorn,' spotted in Vietnam for 1st time in 15 yrs. http://t.co/WPJPWpT8zt (sadly, Asian unicorn has 2 horns.)
— Science Friday (@scifri) November 13, 2013
However, estimates are that only a few hundred, or as few as dozens of the rare mammals still survive.
The Saola is also known as the Vu Quang ox, or Asian unicorn, and it’s considered to be a cousin to the cow, goat, and antelope.