For the first time in more than ten years, there has been a confirmed sighting of one of the rarest and most mysterious animals in the world, the saola of Laos and Vietnam. The Government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (also known as Laos) announced on September15 that in late August villagers in the central province of Bolikhamxay captured a saola and brought it back to their village. The animal died several days later, but was photographed while still alive.
This is the first confirmed record of the species since two photographs of wild saola were taken in Laos in by automatic camera traps in 1999.
The saola was discovered as a species new to science only in 1992, in Vietnam's Vu Quang Nature Reserve, near the country's border with Laos. It was one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century. With their long horns and white facial markings, saola resemble the antelopes of North Africa, but are more closely related to wild cattle.
Saola are so secretive and so seldom seen (no biologist has ever reported seeing one in the wild) that they have been likened to unicorns (despite actually having two horns). In fact, at least one historian has speculated that a Chinese myth of a magical unicorn, the qilin, may have derived from familiarity with saola in prehistoric China (although the species does not occur there presently, if it ever did).
Today, saola occur only in dense forests of the Annamite Mountains along the Lao/Vietnamese border. The species is classed as "Critically Endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and probably no more than a few hundred survive. It is one of the most threatened large mammals on the planet, and there are none in zoos anywhere in the world.
A statement issued by the Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay Province said: "The death of this saola is unfortunate. But at least it confirms an area where it st
|Contact: William Robichaud|
World Wildlife Fund