Saola caught alive in Laos, first sighting for 11 years16/09/2010 09:50:30
Asian ‘Unicorn' sighted for first time in over ten years
Died in captivity
"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," says William Robichaud, Coordinator of the IUCN Saola Working Group.
Camera trap photos in 1999
First discovered in 1992
Saola are secretive and so seldom seen (no biologist has ever reported seeing one in the wild) that they have been likened to unicorns, in spite of the fact that they have two horns. It's been speculated 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 death of this Saola is unfortunate," says the Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay Province. "But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there."
The animal was reportedly found in the village's sacred forest in remote Xaychamphon District, but it is not clear why the villagers took it into captivity. After its death, the technical team took the carcass to Pakxan, the provincial capital, where biologists from 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.
Sad death will help science
The Lao Department of Forestry (DoF) and provincial and district authorities are urging villagers in the area not to capture Saola, and immediately release any they might encounter.
"As a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and as outlined in our National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, Laos is committed to conserving biodiversity, and we want to give special attention to 'flagship species', such as the Saola," says Bouaphanh Phanthavong, Director of DoF's Division of Forest Resources Conservation and a member of the IUCN Saola Working Group.
"This incident highlights the importance of Laos to global wildlife conservation. Saola and several other rare endemic species are found almost nowhere else in the world," says Ms. Latsamay Sylavong, the national representative for the IUCN Lao Programme. "Our knowledge of them is limited, and in Laos we need to improve protection of both the ecosystems and the special species they hold, like the Saola. Much needs to be done".