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. Patrick

    Yes, by all means, remove an animal's genetics from the pool and reduce the numbers in the wild to support some stupid-*ss thought patterns in society. I say pen up the guy(s) who took the animal, castrate them, and remove their genetics from the pool.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PCola Vet

    For the love of Pete, many of you posters need to get a freaking life. NO matter what the story, you people either turn it political, or religious. They need to put ALL of you in a stadium, and let you just go at it, lol. Now back to the story, very sad the little guy died, maybe if they would've left it alone, it would still be around.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Posh-Kenneth

      @PCola Vet- Wow, you come to that conclusion all on your own? Your parents must be proud. With that kinda thinkin PAW you might actually get out of the trailer park someday! YEEHAW!

      Seriously, you dont like whats being said moron then don't look down at the comments. Anyone is allowed to say what they thing (as long as its not offensively filled with explitives). But get over it, if you can't then go cry to someone who cares, write your congressmen, idc just don't complain about people debating. It's our right. #fornow.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      You just don't get it. If they would have left it alone, we wouldn't be able to shape our political and religious debates around it. What life is worth living minus these pointless debates?

      September 17, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ash

    The villagers were so excited to see one of these surviving in the wild so they forcible dragged it to the village and because of the ordeal it died – that is just contemptable and disgusting! Why didn't they just leave it alone and report the sighting to the REAL conservationists. People generally disgust me; they need to have more rspect for the natural world around them.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mary

    why hasnt it been photographing in the wild if the found this one in the wild, also why did the take it to there village. it is common sense that it will die. por animal

    September 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • OhioPaul

      I hope they didn't actually give you a diploma.

      Mary, tell us you were only joking.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Marcus14006

    Over 99% of the species that ever lived on this planet are extinct. Odds are this species isn't extinct yet. Also, odds are it will be extinct soon.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Johnny

    Laos is a third world country, people have to survive, and they probably didn't know it was endangered. It not like they can look it up on the internet to see a list of endangered animals or turn on the TV. Some villages still don't have running water, they still go out into the wood to do #2. We don't understand their true reason from bringing this animal back to the village, so we shouldn't speculate.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fubarchaeo

      Not to mention that there are still thousands of unexploded ordinances left in the ground in Laos from the Vietnam War. We claimed at the time that we hadn't been active there, but hmm.. sure seems like it. There are many poverty stricken areas where farmers have blown off limbs and aren't able provide for their families. WI love all animals and believe they need to be protected within reason.. but who are we to judge if they need food?

      September 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fiona

    That poor animal died of stress. Imagine a shy, wild creature roped and dragged back to a village, where it is tied up, and gaped at by a crowd of jabbering children and adults, photographed with a flash camera (terrifying for the animal). It was tortured to death. This practice of capturing specimens of rare animals should have disappeared half a century ago, or more. That's one very rare animal that will not breeds. And the saola moves even closer to extinction.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • OhioPaul

      Has anyone else wondered that it could have been old or already sick? Maybe that is why is was sighted in the 1st place...Who said the locals killed it due to neglegence?

      There are so many questions unanswered in this story but let's blame the locals...If i were an endangered species, I would rather take my chances with the indigent people, than Westerners...ask the American Bison.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. zach

    this went from a unique species to religions to cults to evolution? Im 17 and think you guys a childish, theirs this thing everyone should have its called self-control when you don't agree with someone don't disrespect them simply let them dig their own hole because if they are in fact wrong it will happen trust me.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • OhioPaul

      Zach, Why aren't you studying English instead of posting to this web site? You obviously need to study...or learn to proof read before you hit 'send'...

      September 17, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Posh-Kenneth

      @Zach- uhh... shouldn't you be at school young man? I ask that because a. its like 1:30 central (dont know what time it is for you) and b. you're 17 and c. your spelling\grammar\general writing and english skills are... horrendous. Try putting together a sentence that makes and THEN people will listen.

      But really, people arguing\debating is a good thing, it sometimes leads to them actually having to THINK. Don't knock it, try it sometime.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. michael

    Note to Authorities in Laos: Don't capture animals that die in captivity!
    Just a little simple deduction of logic...especially ones that are thought to be extinct.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Playgurl89

    People are AWESOME. Just because they call it 'like a unicorn' doesn't mean it is one. They are saying it's so rare that it's like the mythical the article people. Some of these comments are just to stupid to reply too. But it's sad that it died, that's crazy it's THAT endangered. 🙁

    September 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. hideyercorns

    Better hide yo husbands and yo unicorns! Go run tell that!

    September 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sarah

    We're on a bridge, Charlie!

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

    "uni"corn means single horned, I guess if it works for them though.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. biginathens

    Wow... Look at all the anger and hate one bi-corn can cause. My adivce: poeple should avoid the Politics section of the news until they've mastered their emotions in the Near-Mythical Animals section.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. aarrgghh

    If your god is so peaceful and kind. why is he responsible for more death and murder than any other subject or cause to have ever existed?

    September 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • ColdAsIce

      Think about it... Is HE really responsible or are WE ? Just because wars and murders have been done in His name doesn't mean He sanctioned them. We can manage doing that stuff without any help and we've proven that.

      September 19, 2010 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
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