HANOI (AFP) – The establishment of a nature reserve in Vietnam has brought new hope for the survival of a mysterious twin-horned creature "on the brink of extinction", conservation group WWF said.
Authorities in the central Quang Nam province agreed last week to set up the reserve dedicated to the secretive saola, a relative of antelopes and cattle and one of the world's rarest animals, which was only discovered in 1992.
"This decision has brought new hope for the survival of the saola, an animal that is on the brink of extinction in the world," said Vu Ngoc Tram of the WWF Greater Mekong Programme.
The saola is hunted illegally for its horns using snares and dogs and the population could be as low as a few dozen, according to the WWF, which said none had survived in captivity.
The elusive creature was seen for the first time in a decade in August but died a few days after it was captured by villagers in Laos, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The animal was photographed before its death, the first confirmed record since 1999 when pictures of wild saola were taken by automatic cameras in Laos, the Swiss-based network of scientists and environmental organisations said.
WWF Vietnam said the new reserve, in the Annamite mountains along the border with Laos, would create an ideal habitat for the saola and the conservation group hopes for a reverse in the species' decline.
The group has been working with Vietnamese authorities to promote the establishment of the reserve and other protected areas "in response to the alarming status of the species in the wild", their statement said.