Unicorn? Vietnam's Endangered Saola Sighted First Time in Decade

Thursday, 14 Nov 2013 11:48 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Vietnam's "Asian unicorn," the endangered twin-horned saola, has been sighted in the Southeast Asian country for the first time in over a decade.

The extremely elusive antelope-like creature was observed in September in Vietnam's central Annamite mountains via a camera trap put in place by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and the country's communist government, France's AFP news service reported.

"When our team first looked at the photos we couldn't believe our eyes. Saola are the holy grail for South East Asian conservationists so there was a lot of excitement," WWF-Vietnam’s Country Director Van Ngoc Thinh said in a statement about the saola. "This is a breathtaking discovery and renews hope for the recovery of the species."

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Despite its nickname, the saola does not have a single horn like the mythical unicorn, but rather two sharp-edged parallel horns that can reach 50" in length.

September's sighting of the elusive saola was the first time it had been spotted in Vietnam in the 21st century, the last sighting being in 1999. The creature was discovered in 1992.

"This is a monumental find and comes at a critical moment in time for saola conservation," WWF's Species Conservation Program Director Dr. Barney Long said in a press release. "It’s a huge reward for decades of tireless work by the provincial government who established the saola reserve, community snare removal teams and WWF biologists. Now it’s time to double our efforts to recover this iconic species."

In recent years, Vietnamese authorities have implemented measures to prevent local poachers from illegally killing saolas and other vulnerable species that have reportedly been caught in snares and other devices intended to capture dear.

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The AFP reported that since 2011, Vietnamese forest guards have removed 30,000 snares and destroyed more than 600 illegal hunters' camps in an attempt to help restore the rare saola.

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