What is there to do on a Sunday night when there is nothing of interest on the television and you are in the fourth month of a pandemic lockdown? Of course, you google around until you find a list of the word's most critically endangered animals.
Most of the beautiful and unique creatures on that list are pretty well-known - The Sumatran rhino, the orangutan, the hawksbill turtle, The Eastern Lowland gorilla etcetera. But there was one creature on that list that I admit I had never heard of before - the saola.
This member of the antelope and bovine families was not recorded by zoologists until May 1992. It was discovered in the forests of north and central Vietnam. Think of that... all the time The Vietnam War was being played out, shy saolas were grazing nervously in the shadows - even as helicopters whirred overhead and agent orange was raining down in the name of freedom.
There are not many decent photographs of saolas - probably because they are so rare. In December of last year it was estimated that there are only between seventy and 750 left in the wild. Even as I write this blogpost they may all be gone but I hope not. I hope that there are sections of virgin forest where they still feed and reproduce in peace.
In neighbouring Laos the creature is called the saht-supahp which means "the polite animal" - probably because of its quiet behaviour.
Saolas are herbivores. They seem to give birth to single calves. They have twin horns that sprout from the skull very close together and undoubtedly that is why they are sometimes known as "The Asian unicorn".
Like several other critically endangered animals, the saola's chief threats come from humankind. Forest habitats have been reduced or invaded by loggers and local hunters have killed them for their meat. It's the same old story.
Bless the saola.