A rare picture of the secretive Saolo, a species that conservationists warn is dying out. (Wikipedia)

Conservationists have warned that the saola, a rare animal only recently discovered, is in danger of becoming extinct.

The saola, a cousin of cattle that resembles an antelope, is in danger of being hunted into extinction as its natural reserves are eaten away, warns the WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The groups warn that the animal, first discovered in 1992 in a territory on the border of Vietnam and Laos, is disappearing fast, although its elusiveness makes an accurate population figure hard to attain.

"If things are good, there may be a couple of hundred saola out there. If things are bad, the population could now be in the tens," said William Robichaud, co-ordinator of the IUCN Saola working group.

The animals behaviour and ecology remain a mystery, as saola are not available for research. Villagers in Bolikhamxay, Laos, caputured one of the animals in 2010, but it died shortly afterwards.

The animal was last seen in 1999, when a camera trap was triggered.

"Saolo are extremely secretive and very seldom seen," said Nick Cox, manager of the WWF- Greater Mekong's species programme. "While they inhabit a very restricted range, there is still no reported sighting of a saola in the wold by a scientist and the the handful of saola that have been taken into captivity have not survived."

The saola is considered an icon for biodiversity in the Annamite mountain range. This area boasts an array of species not seen anywhere else on the planet.

Conservationists point to the Javan Rhino, which was declared extinct in 2011, as an examples of the fragility of species in the area.

The now extinct Javan rhino is an example of how precarious some species surivial chances are. (Reuters)

"If hunting levels can be significantly reduced, we are optimistic about the species' prospects," said Chris Halla, conservation planning advisor for the area. "This will require funds for more patrol boots on the ground in Saola areas, developing positive incentives for its conservation and ultimately reducing consumer demand for wildlife meat and products."

Illegal hunting remains the animals greatest threat, with wire traps and snares spread throughout its habitat. In response, Vietnam and Laos have worked together to set up protected areas within the habitat that are maintained and cleared of traps.

More than 12,500 snares and almost 200 illegal hunting camps have been removed since more aggressive action was taken in 2011.

"The saola has made it to its twentieth anniversary, but it won't have many more anniversaries unless urgent action is taken."

The rare saola may soon disappear (William Robichaud)