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. Joe Mahma


    Man! Humans are the dumbest animals on the planet.



    September 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John Q

    Um...this only has two horns. Unicorns have three. FAIL

    September 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • aill

      Best comment here, hands down = John Q Sept 17 3:44 pm

      September 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DM

    what an embarrassing report to read. dumbest journalsm ever.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. K19

    I guess the "geniuses" that commented on the usage of 'unicorn' for a two horned animal didn't realize that it was in QUOTES...

    September 17, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MFH

    I would like to grind up the horns and smoke it

    September 17, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Carl

    The Hmongs are eating them. To them, food and survival is more important tham rare or not.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Shawn

    I wonder what it tastes like.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike Long

    What do you get with anonymity and the internet?

    About 95% of the comments on this thread... 🙂

    September 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rick

    The Chinese will eat this.

    September 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jack

    If it isn't extinct man will eventually take care of that.

    September 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bivariate

    And the poor animal died in captivity ... SAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 17, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jesusislife

    To all who dont belive in god......
    I respect your beliefs but they have found proof of the parting of the red sea, and who else could do that but god?
    Also i agree two horned-unicorns and bigfoot and chubacabras and all those myths are just stupid :-{

    September 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. K.C.

    This is disgusting! Leave the poor creatures alone.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chrisf

    I heard that they taste like chicken.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. masterofmeander

    Look. It ONLY has one horn, but it ALWAYS carries a spare.

    Do I have to explain everything to everybody?

    September 17, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
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