One of the rarest animals in the world has been sighted for the first time in more than 10 years, according to the government of Laos. Sightings of the animal, called a saola, are so rare that the creature has been likened to a unicorn, despite the fact that it has two horns, not one.
The Lao government announced that in late August villagers in the central province of Bolikhamxay captured a saola, which looks similar to an antelope, and brought it back to their village.
When news of the saola’s capture reached Lao authorities, the Bolikhamxay Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office immediately sent a team, advised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to examine the saola and release it. Unfortunately, the animal, an adult male, weakened by the ordeal of several days in captivity, died shortly after. The animal was photographed while still alive.
"The government of Lao PDR and WCS are to be commended for their rapid response and efforts to save this animal. We hope the information gained from the incident can be used to ensure that this is not the last saola anyone has a chance to see," said William Robichaud, coordinator of the IUCN Saola Working Group.
This is the first confirmed record of the species since two photographs of wild saola were taken in Laos by automatic camera traps in 1999.
The Saola was first discovered in 1992, in Vietnam near the country’s border with Laos. With its long horns and white facial markings, the saola resembles the antelope of North Africa, but is more closely related to wild cattle.
Saola are secretive and so seldom seen (no biologist has ever reported spotting one in the wild) that they have been likened to mythical unicorns. Some speculate that a Chinese myth of a magical unicorn, the qilin, may have been derived from familiarity with saola in prehistoric China, although the species does not occur there today, if it ever did.
The saola is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and probably no more than a few hundred exist. With none in zoos and almost nothing known about how to maintain them in captivity, extinction of saola in the wild would mean its extinction everywhere.
"The death of this saola is unfortunate," the Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay Province said in a statement. "But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there."
It is not clear why the villagers took the saola into captivity. After its death, the technical team took the carcass to Pakxan, the provincial capital, where biologists from the WCS and the Lao government preserved all parts for analysis, future study and reference. This is the first saola specimen to be so completely preserved.
"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," said 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."
The Lao Department of Forestry and provincial and district authorities are urging villagers in the area not to capture saola.
Your Smartphone Broadcasts Your Entire Life To The Secret Service 2014 09 23
Intelligence services collect metadata on the communication of all citizens. Politicians would have us believe that this data doesn’t say all that much. A reader of De Correspondent put this to the test and demonstrated otherwise: metadata reveals a lot more about your life than you think.
Ton Siedsma is nervous. He made the decision weeks ago, but keeps postponing it. ...
Scots were tricked into voting ‘No’ – Salmond 2014 09 23
London politicians gulled Scottish voters out of independence by making a false “vow” to grant Glasgow extra powers, First Minister Alex Salmond has said. He also raised the prospect of another referendum, saying the break-up is inevitable.
Alex Salmond, leader of the ’Yes’ campaign and the outgoing head of the Scottish National Party (SNP), told the BBC’s Sunday Politics program that ...
The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 2014 09 23 The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Suspected Ebola patient Finda “Zanabo” prays over her sick family members before being admitted to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014, near Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has spiraled out of control, affecting thousands of Liberians, Sierra Leonians, and Guineans, ...
Man bitten by Ebola patient flown to Switzerland 2014 09 22
Swiss authorities say a male nurse who was bitten by an Ebola patient while working in West Africa has been flown to Switzerland as a precaution.
The health ministry says the unidentified man was working for an international organization in Sierra Leone when he was bitten by a child infected with Ebola on Saturday.
The ministry says the nurse was wearing protective ...