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. Roman

    "Christina

    Of course in a country where Jesus doesn't exist they would still believe in mythical creatures. Guess He put one there just to keep His people entertained, though I bet they will still refuse to accept Him."

    Christina's comments are disturbing, not only because they were made on a piece about conservation. The hostility isn't even thinly veiled. "I bet they will still refuse to accept Him." sounds like Christina would have no problem with using "coercion" to show these people from a nation she disdains to know anything about.
    Did you even read the article Christina? The author isn't using the term unicorn in a literal sense and there's a photo of the animal. I can understand that if the bible is your go-to manual for most things, it can be difficult to discern the difference between metaphor and reality. But there's a picture for eff's sake!

    September 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      I didn't know Jesus existed in any country.

      September 17, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tensor

    And so they trapped it, starved and killed it. What a profoundly beneficial species humans are.

    September 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • jovanny!

      thank you!! seriously people, lets just put a little bit more thought into our actions yes??

      September 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Otis

    Look, an almost extinct creature... let's kill it to show that it exists!

    September 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sevoruco

    Dude this is not an unicorn , the word unicorn is divided in 2 syllables prefix uni -latin word that means one and suffix corn which means horn ,it means one horn.This dude had two horns therefore is not a unicorn, unicorns are fairly tales..And for the illiterates dudes ,latin donot mean spanish or latino it is a Greek language or latin where all the words in Spanish,Italian ,English,French are originally from.

    September 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • OhioPaul

      Dude, Once and for all, they aren't saying this IS an Unicorn...they are saying this creature may be the source of those myths...no wonder the Tea Party is successful...

      September 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. 10porkchops

    Digiital Camera: $250, Hiking boots: $60, Actually capturing a critically endangered animal, bringing it back to the village as a pet and letting it die: priceless irony

    September 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sevoruco

    Most of the reporters for CNN are dudes that get a free diploma in journalism and can barely write a report in English the only language they can undestand. Comprende amigo.

    September 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LaDiva

    @ Good stuff...
    Oh b/c non-believers couldn't possibly be pedophilers right....Lol

    September 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. hiltz

    It's "critically" rare. So let's capture one and kill it... makes sense...

    September 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. njm

    ah darn, i was expecting something that looks like the comedian margaret cho with 1 horn on the forehead

    September 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dana

    Poor thing.....it must have been so scared being held captive..........humans need to start respecting the planet more, the ecosystems and all life here on earth.........everything is not simply here for us to destroy and take advantage of....sometimes I think God should have put animals in charge here and not humans.

    September 17, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • OhioPaul

      hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, sorry you want me to do what, Mr Gnat? Speak up.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. hunley

    I wonder how they taste?

    September 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • honeybee

      dang. i was almost wondering the same thing...wonder why they wont eat it. looks kinda like it could taste like deer meat.

      September 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • jovanny!

      hahahahahahaha! no not really -_-

      September 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Matt Core

    What is the big deal? They only taste like chicken. Now the taint of a bald eagle, that is where it is at!

    September 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • SantaHimself

      Laughed so hard I just pooed my pants... Thanks a lot

      September 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark C

      I guess half-wits are easily amused. By other half-wits.

      September 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kynphlee

    since a "uni"corn has one horn (uni = 1), and this thing has two horns, wouldn't this be considered a bicorn?

    September 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. La india

    hahahahahahahha doesent uni mean one that "unicorn" has TWO,,!!! horns get yuhr stuff right

    September 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. kite005

    There was green alligators and long-necked geese
    Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
    Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you're born
    The loveliest of all was the unicorn

    September 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
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