New-found Asian antelope said close to extinction

saola 300x189 New found Asian antelope said close to extinctionThe Saola antelope, discovered in 1992 by scientists in remote valleys on the borders of Laos and Vietnam, is on the brink of extinction from hunting with dogs and snaring, the nature body IUCN said on Thursday.

Resembling the desert antelopes of Asia but more closely related to wild cattle, the Saola has rarely been seen or photographed, the Swiss-based organization said.

“We are at a point in history where we have a small but rapidly closing window of opportunity to conserve this extraordinary animal,” said IUCN expert William Robichaud.

“Its wild population may number only in the dozens, and it is certainly not more than a few hundred,” said his colleague Barney Long in a statement issued from IUCN headquarters at Gland, near Geneva.

If it dies out in the wild, it would mean total disappearance of the antelope — which has distinctive white facial markings and long, tapering horns — because none are held anywhere in zoos anywhere in the world, IUCN said.

This meant it would not be possible to breed it in captivity and reintroduce it later into the wild.

The only Saola captured alive and held for any length of time — in a Laotian menagerie in 1996 — survived only a few weeks, according to the body, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The Saola’s fate was the focus of an emergency meeting in Laos last month of specialists from around the south-east Asian region where another wild cattle species, the Kouprey, is almost certainly doomed to disappear, according to IUCN.

It said the secretive Saola, which has only a small range in the Annamite Mountains along the Laos-Vietnam frontier, could not be saved unless the two countries launched an intensive campaign to remove traps and reduce hunting.

There was also a need to heighten awareness in the two countries, and among the global conservation community at large, of the threat to the Saola, and for more funding from donors to support efforts to preserve it, the IUCN declared.

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