'Asian Unicorn' Captured on Camera

It's the first sighting of the saola in Vietnam since 1998

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 14, 2013 6:34 AM CST

(Newser) – One conservationist went so far is to call them "the most important wild animal photographs taken in Asia, and perhaps the world, in at least the past decade." That's because, captured in them, is an image of the "Asian Unicorn." That's the nickname given to the elusive saola, an endangered animal that wasn't discovered until 1992 and is so rarely seen that the last on-record appearance in Vietnam was in 1998, reports the Los Angeles Times. (Villagers in Laos managed to trap one, which died days later, in 2010.)

This time, a camera trap set up by a World Wildlife Fund team snapped the creature in September in Vietnam’s Central Annamite mountains. With only a few hundred of them (at most) thought to be in the forests that sit along the Vietnam-Laos border, the team's director calls the saola "the holy grail for South-east Asian conservationists." What's more, notes the Christian Science Monitor, the sighting could be a good omen for conservation efforts in Vietnam, which is home to five of the world's most endangered species—including the saola. The creature's nickname is a bit of a misnomer, though; the AFP points out that the antelope-like creature (actually a cousin of the cow) has two horns, not one, which have sharp ends and can grow to 20 inches in length.

This Sept. 7, 2013 photo released by WWF, shows the Saola in a forest in Vietnam.
This Sept. 7, 2013 photo released by WWF, shows the Saola in a forest in Vietnam.   (AP Photo/WWF)
This photo taken in 1993 and released by WWF shows a Saola in Vietnam when it was captured. It was one of two Saola captured alive in central Vietnam, but both died months later in captivity.
This photo taken in 1993 and released by WWF shows a Saola in Vietnam when it was captured. It was one of two Saola captured alive in central Vietnam, but both died months later in captivity.   (AP Photo/WWF)
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