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. kynphlee

    and i'm not going to jump into the religion/science debate that has started here....i'll stay neutral

    September 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Posh-Kenneth

      you freakin coward

      September 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dusty Rhodes

    I certainly wouldn't think more highly of christianity because of this, mythology seldom serves a useful purpose.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LaDiva

    @ MikinAZ

    U would be amazed to believe that even ppl who believe in 'evolution' have cults...
    I'm assuming u are a member of that one ehh...

    September 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AA

    Okay...it's obvious we all know a unicorn has one horn, not two, but I don't think that they were going for the literal context here...I think they were refering to unicorn as in one of a kind or hard to find/catch....like Nicolas cage's reference in Gone in 60 Seconds.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fubarchaeo

      That seems to be way too deep for most of those commenting to understand.... some people weren't paying attention in third grade when the use of quotations marks came up.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Extremophil

    Unicorn burger....MMMmmmmmmmm

    September 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Veganistic

    "Rare Asian 'unicorn' captured" How about "rare animal captured for the 1st time and killed"

    September 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LaDiva

    @ Buster Bloodvessel
    "Christina, have you accepted Mickey Mouse as your personal savior? I'll consider your religion if you'll convert to mine."

    How do u expect to proof your point when u are ridiculing hers??? Tsk tsk

    September 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. xavier M, Austin, Tx.

    why do stupid people have to capture anything. Just leave nature alone and admire it. Damn!

    September 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sonny

    I am sickened that this poor animal died as a result of the captivity! Didn't those idiots feed it or see to the animal's basic needs. They could not, if it is as rare as they say, how in the heck could anyone with half a mind know how to properly care for it? They stuck it in a pen and that was it. They had no business capturing it in the first place. No business at all.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LaDiva

    @ Buster Bloodvessel
    "Christina, have you accepted Mickey Mouse as your personal savior? I'll consider your religion if you'll convert to mine."
    How do u expect to prove your point when u are ridiculing hers??? Tsk tsk

    September 17, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brian

    There is probably nothing scientific or accurate in this story. The reporters can do better – it was captured in August, sometime, probably, by some villagers in Bolikhamxay province. This village of course has no name. The person who spotted the animal first, well he has no name either. The conservation team was sent, but we have no idea when they arrived. How long was the animal in captivity? There is so much information missing it leads to a lot of speculation. Did the animal die because it took the team too long to find a village with the animal since no name of the village was specified in the report or what?

    September 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LaDiva

    @ Val
    "Sigh, it hurts my heart when people attempt to undermine science without even trying to understand it. "
    Not at all. I however choose to reject the belief that I came from an ape...
    God created man and all things. He breathed His spirit onto us and gave us dominion over animals, not the other way around.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Posh-Kenneth

      @LaDiva- you don't seem any smarter or better than an ape. Maybe you evolved from a goldfish. Freakin useless. Christianity is a prime example of humans taking crap and not giving any credit (Christianty from Paganism). See also "the formation of the United States" where we took from the indians. But I guess since the old man in the sky taking checks and balances on 7 billion people didn't step in either time that its okay to you? You can't believe in evolution but backing an all powerful santa in the sky is alright? Makes perfect sense. #noneatall.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fubarchaeo

      Really? God gave us the right to do whatever we wish with animals, huh? I really hate this perspective from Christians. It seems like they have an excuse for every single action just because "God" made it so. Can't you see your own ignorance? Do you want your kids' kids to be able to see animals in the wild, or just locked up in a cell somewhere for their entertainment?

      September 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. autom

    I wonder what it tastes like.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. beenhad1

    Humans are so ignorant that we take a rare animal from it's habitat, believe some mythical power to be gained from it, lock it up and watch it die. It will be a good day when we go extinct as well since we don't give a damn about anything but our pompus selves.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Roland

    Most of you folks are dummer than the people that captured it.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
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