Feeds

'Unicorn' captured in remote Laos mountain forests

Incredibly rare species now even rarer

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A unfeasibly rare two-horned "unicorn" has been sighted for the first time in ten years in the remote mountain forests of the Far East. Unfortunately the creature was captured by local villagers and died before international unicorn boffins could reach the scene.

The rare saola (or 'unicorn') of the Annamite mountains. Credit: Bolikhamxay Provincial Conservation Unit

The rare animal in question is the saola, a type of two-horned antelope-like creature apparently related to wild cattle. It was first discovered in 1992, and lives only in the dense high forests of the Annamite (Truong Son) Mountains along the Laos/Vietnam border, where once the People's Army of Vietnam* marched along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to war against the Americans.

The saola is so rare that none has ever been seen first-hand in the wild by a biologist, and until last month there had been no confirmed sightings since 1999 - when automatic camera traps snapped pics of the seldom-seen "unicorns". Some researchers have suggested that the saola is behind the ancient Chinese myth of the qilin, a fantastical creature equivalent to the European tradition of the unicorn.

Now it appears that a single adult male saola has once again wandered into contact with humanity, reportedly being discovered last month in a sacred wood outside a village in the remote Xaychamphon District of Bolikhamxay province and brought back by its captors to their village, where it subsequently died.

A statement issued by the Lao People's Democratic Republic Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay Province said:

The death of this saola is unfortunate. But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs, and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there.

Scientists consider that the wild saola population may be as low as scores, or a few hundred at most. There are none in zoos. The species is classed as "Critically Endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Laotian wildlife officials and scientists apparently set out to Xaychamphon District to release the saola as soon as they heard about its capture, but reached the remote village too late.

"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," commented IUCN bigwig William Robichaud.

"Study of the carcass can yield some good from this unfortunate incident," added Dr Pierre Comizzoli, Smithsonian Institute veterinarian and member of the IUCN's saola working group. "Our lack of knowledge of saola biology is a major constraint to efforts to conserve it, and this can be a major step forward in understanding this remarkable and mysterious species."

"It's clear that further awareness-raising efforts about the special status of saola are needed," adds Robichaud. "But the saola doesn't have much time left - at best a few hundred survive, but it may be only a few dozen. The situation is critical." ®

*Aka North Vietnamese Army, or NVA, in the parlance of US troops at the time.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.