HANOI, Vietnam (TheBlaze/AP) — One can imagine how rare an antelope-size mammal would need to be in order to go unseen for more than a decade. Such was the case for the saola, considered one of the rarest mammals on earth.
The long-horned ox was spotted though by a camera trap in a forest in central Vietnam, making it the first time in 15 years that the saola has been seen.
In the image taken in September, the saola appears to walk through dense foliage at the edge of the camera’s range. Conservation group WWF released the image along with a statement Wednesday.
“When our team first looked at the photos we couldn’t believe our eyes. Saola are the holy grail for South-east Asian conservationists so there was a lot of excitement,” Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh, WWF-Vietnam’s country director, said in a statement. “This is a breath-taking discovery and renews hope for the recovery of the species.”
The animal was discovered in remote mountains near Laos in 1992 when a joint team of WWF and Vietnam’s forest control agency found a skull with unusual horns in a hunter’s home. The find proved to be the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years, according to the WWF.
Two saola were captured in central Vietnam in 1993 but died in captivity after several months. Take a look at footage of the elusive creature in captivity:
The last sighting of a saola in the wild was in 1998, according to Dang Dinh Nguyen, director of a saola nature reserve in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Nam.
In the area where the saola was photographed, WWF has recruited forest guards locally to remove snares and battle illegal hunting, the greatest threat to saolas’ survival, the statement said. The snares had been set largely to catch other animals, such as deer and civets, which are a delicacy in Vietnam.
Twenty years since they were first known to science, the elusive mammals remain hard to detect and little is known about them.
At best, no more than few hundred, and maybe only a few dozen, live in the remote, dense forests along Vietnam’s border with Laos, WWF said.