One of the rarest creatures on the planet has been sighted in Laos. The saola, which has been dubbed the ‘Asian unicorn’ despite being double horned, hasn’t been photographed since 1999. The individual pictured above was captured and taken back to a small village, where it unfortunately died in captivity several days later.
The saola first became known to science in 1992 in Vietnam’s Vu Quang Nature Reserve, near the country’s border with Laos. It lives in very dense forest, and has been rarely seen since. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the species as critically endangered.
“It’s clear that further awareness-raising efforts about the special status of saola are needed,” biologist William Robichaud, who coordinates the IUCN Saola Working Group, said in a press release Sept. 16. “But saola doesn’t have much time left — at best a few hundred survive, but it may be only a few dozen. The situation is critical.”
The saola pictured above was captured in late August. When the news of the capture reached Lao authorities, a technical team advised by the Wildlife Conservation Society and IUCN Saola Working Group, was dispatched to examine the animal and release it. But the saola had been weakened by the whole ordeal and died shortly after the team arrived.
A statement issued by the Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay Province, where the saola was captured, said, “The death of this saola is unfortunate. But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs, and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there.”
The carcass of the captured saola was preserved, providing the first complete specimen for study and reference.
“Study of the carcass can yield some good from this unfortunate incident,” veterinarian Pierre Comizzoli with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute said in a press release. “Our lack of knowledge of saola biology is a major constraint to efforts to conserve it, and this can be a major step forward in understanding this remarkable and mysterious species.”
Image: Bolikhamxay Provincial Conservation Unit
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