'Asian unicorn' dies in captivity
Published 16/09/2010 | 11:38
The first confirmed sighting in more than a decade of one of the rarest animals in the world, described as the "Asian unicorn", has been revealed.
But the saola died after villagers took it into captivity in a remote region of Laos, conservationists said.
The critically endangered mammal, which is found in the mountains of Vietnam and Laos, was first discovered in 1992.
The animal, which looks similar to the antelopes of North Africa, but is more closely related to wild cattle, is so elusive it has been likened to the unicorn, despite having two horns, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.
It has never been seen by conservation experts in the wild and the last confirmed sighting was from camera traps in 1999.
The animal is listed as critically endangered, with just a few hundred thought to exist in the wild.
Conservationists said that with none in zoos and almost nothing known about how to keep them in captivity, if the species vanish in the wild they will be extinct.
The Laos government said villagers in the country's central province of Bolikhamxay captured the saola in late August and brought it back to their village.
When news of the capture reached the authorities a team was sent, advised by the IUCN and Wildlife Conservation Society, to examine and release the animal.
Unfortunately the adult male saola was weakened by several days in captivity and died shortly after the team reached the remote village. It was photographed while still alive.