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. Really

    You can feel it......some people can hear can not see it....but we know it exists.....what is it?? ....the wind. Who is to say that Jesus does not exist?

    September 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Calvin

    Yum. Dinner.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jenickki

    Leave it to man to kill something because they want to study it. I realize it was not the initial intent; but man does not have to control everything it sees. Maybe, just maybe there are somethings that nature intended to be left alone and unspoiled by the all powerful human species.
    Very sad this poor creature had to die because we had to become smarter than it.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sar

    They called it a unicorn because when viewed from the side, it deceivingly seems to have only one horn.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Common Sense

    Surprised they didn't eat it before the team arrived like the rest of the members of its species

    September 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. stop2think

    I love the animal lovers on here. Ever think that this beast is on the way out due to evolution and not human interference? Ninety-nine percent of all living things ever on earth have disapeared ON THEIR OWN. Animal lovers: some of the weirdest people around.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • RicoB

      Can't wait until there's nothing left and my next option is you. When all the animals are gone and humans have overproduced until the continents start sinking, I will be first in line with bun in hand for "man-burger, medium-well." How's that make you feel, tough guy?

      April 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fthompson

    So it is a terribly endangered animal that numbers only about 100 and the villagers decide to capture it and then let it die in captivity. I understand that ignorance probably plays a role in this but come on!

    September 17, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Alex

    Can I have that medium rare?

    September 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LaDiva

    @ Posh-Kenneth
    And u think mocking Jesus is proving your point? Nope.
    But then again we are all allowed to express our opinions after all.
    I'm sure a child would have been able to do it with more respect and class though.
    God bless u all the same. And no I don't need your sympathy or pity votes just b/c I am a Christian. Oneday one of us will meet our maker, and I would honestly hate to have been wrong all along. U take care of yourself tho.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. shane

    Well let's see, humans survived for how many thousands of years before 1992 when they discovered this animal??? I think we will do well enough without it.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mike

    Brad Lendon, "sometimes called" another idiot.
    Sorry Brad, you earned it!

    September 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LaDiva

    Anyways i bless everyone with a wonderful day. God bless u all, even to the ones who have hardened their hearts against Him. Take care.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. macguysea


    September 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jesus of Nazareth

    That really is a shame it died so tragically.

    Oh well.

    Saola burger anyone? Very rare, once in a lifetime, step right up. $2000 a burger.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michael

    Great another of those two horned unicorns. Looks like the villagers did a great job, captured it, put it in a corral, keep the ropes on it just in case it tried to escape and then it died. Just goes to show you that you that we can make everything extinct even without education. Just another heart warming story but have no fear Obama will send a couple of trillion dollars to study why it became extinct. He probably did not see the picture.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
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