September 17th, 2010
10:08 AM ET

Rare Asian 'unicorn' captured

The rarity of the saola, which resembles an African antelope, gives it mythical status.

Scientists have confirmed the first sighting in more than a decade of one of the world’s rarest animals - the saola, sometimes called Asia’s “unicorn.”

 The animal was captured by villagers in Laos in August, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The villagers took the saola back to their village in Bolikhamxay province and Laotian conservation authorities sent a team to check on the animal. The creature, likely weakened from its time in captivity, died shortly after that team arrived.

"The death of this Saola is unfortunate,” the Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay province said in the IUCN statement. “But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there."

This was the first confirmed sighting of a saola since 1999, when remotely triggered cameras took images of one in Laos.

First discovered in 1992, the saola is considered critically endangered, its numbers so few that biologists have never witnessed one in the wild. Fewer than a few hundred saolas are believed to roam the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam. There are none in captivity.

The rarity of the saola, which resembles an African antelope but it more closely related genetically to wild cattle, gives it mythical status in some circles, according to the IUCN. The saola, although it has two horns, may be the basis of the mythical Chinese unicorn, the qilin, although it is unknown if saolas ever existed in China.

The carcass of the saola recovered in the Laotian village was being preserved for study, officials said.

"Study of the carcass can yield some good from this unfortunate incident. Our lack of knowledge of Saola biology is a major constraint to efforts to conserve it,” says Dr. Pierre Comizzoli, a veterinarian with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and a member of the IUCN Saola Working Group. “This can be a major step forward in understanding this remarkable and mysterious species.”

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Filed under: Animals • Laos
soundoff (377 Responses)
  1. Bud

    If "uni" mean "one," what sort of fool gtets "uni" and "bi" bixed up? Unicorn = One Horn. Got that? Another example of CNN's "cut and paste" department of reporting.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dan

    Humans are pathetic and disgusting. Constantly destroying everything that is wonderful about this planet.

    September 17, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nodat1

    wait a minute I thought unicorn only had one horn??? this one clearly has two horns maybe it had a rare form of cancer and in its sicken state was captured and died shortly after!!!

    September 17, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cait

    I'm glad that unicorns do not exist. That means they are safe, from us.

    September 17, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ivy

    Wait, I think I need to stop drinking coz I see 2 horns!

    September 17, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Run4DaHills

    Um...idiots. A Unicorn has ONE horn. So, an animal died YET AGAIN due to Human stupidity. Sad, really.

    September 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Christyne

    Let's all argue over the semantics. Never mind that one of the rarest, most endangered animals on the planet was captured, taken from it's natural environment, roped to a fence, neglected in some aspect being that it is now DEAD! What is wrong with the human race? Now I know why these precious animals haven't been seen in years; I do my best to avoid idiots too.

    September 17, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rob

    Someone's probably eating some Saola Chow Mein right now.

    September 17, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. phil

    If this story were about the plight of an viet-nam vet who, when California funding for VA hospitals was reuced, was put in a van along with 12 others and dumped off in downtown LA...to fend for himself...well, harldly a post would be here.

    September 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bluebird1

    What a bunch of stupid villagers.

    September 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bug and alyssa

    o my gosh u guys, its a frikin goat!!! durrh!

    September 17, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MeThinks

    I saw this guy at the end of Blade Runner.. he was alive then.. and white.. and taller.. and he grew another horn since then.

    September 18, 2010 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. Chrisblaze

    It looks like a liger.. I know.. It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a lion and a tiger mixed... bred for its skills in magic.

    September 18, 2010 at 3:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ridgeway

    Of course they captured it. It's a friggin unicorn (two horns or not). Who's not going to try to catch a unicorn if they run across one. That's like seeing a leprechaun and just letting it go on about it's day. Not me. I'm going to try my best to get it and if there's no pot-o-gold, I at least want my picture taken with it. And it said that they were villagers that got it. Now I don't want this to sound mean or racist or ethno-centrist or whatever, and I'm sure that these people are all sorts of in tune with the environment, but they're probably not all that familiar with the in's and out's of conservation efforts. Plus, if this thing had lived and scientists had a living specimen to study, they may have been better equipped to implement more effective methods of protectinf the remaining wild unicorns. Seriously, though, it's a shame that they did grab it and that it died, but irt's also pretty cool when stories like this pop up and show us that there are crazy things out there that we're still just now finding out about.

    September 18, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. okie

    Looks pretty yummy to me!!! Break out the beer and light the oven!!!!

    September 18, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
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