Scientists bulk up efforts to find endangered ‘Asian Unicorn’

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Scientists are redoubling their efforts to find an endangered animal so rare it has been nicknamed the ‘Asian Unicorn’.

Astoundingly for a mammal, the soala was only discovered in 1992 – from its droppings found in Vietnam's Vu Quang Nature Reserve – and has remained characteristically elusive since then.

It is forest-dwelling bovine which stands, fully grown, at just over 30 inches, and its preference for avoiding human contact suggests it is rather shy.

Scientists are increasingly worried that if they cannot track one down and take it to a special facility for it to reproduce, then the mammal will die out.

Despite enhanced patrolling campaigns at nature reserves in the Annamite mountains – a range that sprawls 680 miles across Vietnam, Laos and north-east Cambodia – poaching is on the rise.

Colorado State University PhD student Minh Nguyen told the Guardian : “Thousands of people use snares, so there are millions of them in the forest, which means populations of large mammals and some birds have no way to escape and are collapsing throughout the Annamites”.

No biologist has ever sighted a soala in the wild, though it was spotted on cameras hidden in trees nine years ago.

Images show its distinctive features, including large Thompson gazelle-like horns and sharp white facial marks.

While it has taken on the mythic proportions of a unicorn, its nickname belies the fact it has two horns.

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Experts at the Wisconsin-based non-profit Saola Foundation are having to get creative in locating the elusive creatures, and so have begun training dogs to track soala scents.

Any suspected saola samples found in the mountains, such as faeces or fur, will be tested for its DNA.

If a positive result is confirmed, experts could begin combing the local area for soala.

Any creatures they find would then be taken to a Vietnamese government-backed breeding centre at Bạch Mã national park in central Vietnam.

But finding and capturing a soala will just be the first hurdle, after that it will have to be kept alive long enough for reproduction to take place.

Given the fact that until now all captive saola have died, the prospects of this are far from guaranteed – some experts even speculate the animal may be unable to survive in captive conditions.

  • Animals

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