Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Asian 'unicorn' photographed for first time in over 10 years

17.09.2010
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 a saola, which was captured by villagers in Laos. Credit: Bolikhamxay Provincial Conservation Unit

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 still occurs, and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there."

When news of the saola's capture reached Lao authorities, the Bolikhamxay Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office immediately dispatched a technical team, advised by the Lao Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the IUCN Saola Working Group, 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 team reached the remote village.

The IUCN Saola Working Group is part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). It is a network of scientists and conservationists under the auspices of the IUCN SSC Asian Wildlife Cattle Specialist Group, and provides strategy and technical guidance for saola conservation.

William Robichaud, Coordinator of the Saola Working Group, said, "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 insure that this is not the last saola anyone has a chance to see."

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 transported 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.

Dr. Pierre Comizzoli, a veterinarian with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and a member of the Saola Working Group, said: "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, 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," said Robichaud. "But 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."

The Lao Department of Forestry (DoF) and provincial and district authorities are moving to urge villagers in the area not to capture saola, and immediately release any they might encounter. Bouaphanh Phanthavong, Director of DoF's Division of Forest Resources Conservation (and a member of the Saola Working Group) said, "As a Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and as outlined in our National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, Laos is committed to conserve biodiversity, and we want to give special attention to 'flagship species', such as the saola."

The national representative for the IUCN Lao Programme, Ms. Latsamay Sylavong, noted, "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. 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".

CONTACTS:

William Robichaud
Coordinator
IUCN SSC Saola Working Group
saolawg@gmail.com
James Burton
Chair
IUCN SSC Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group
jburton@earthwatch.org.uk
Alex McWilliam
Site Coordinator
Integrated Ecosystem and Wildlife Management Project
Wildlife Conservation Society, Lao PDR Program
+856 20 2187184
amcwilliam@wcs.org
Michael Hedemark
Operations Manager
Wildlife Conservation Society, Lao PDR Program
+856 20 55516912
Latsamay Sylavong
National Representative
IUCN Lao Programme
latsamay.sylavong@iucn.org

William Robichaud | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wcs.org

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Species may appear deceptively resilient to climate change
24.11.2017 | University of California - Davis

nachricht Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New proton record: Researchers measure magnetic moment with greatest possible precision

High-precision measurement of the g-factor eleven times more precise than before / Results indicate a strong similarity between protons and antiprotons

The magnetic moment of an individual proton is inconceivably small, but can still be quantified. The basis for undertaking this measurement was laid over ten...

Im Focus: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

IceCube experiment finds Earth can block high-energy particles from nuclear reactions

24.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 'half-hearted' solution to one-sided heart failure

24.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

Heidelberg Researchers Study Unique Underwater Stalactites

24.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>