The saola, an antelope-like endangered mammal, has been caught on camera for the first time in the 21st century. The animal, dubbed the “Asian Unicorn” because it is so rarely seen, was photographed in Vietnam’s Central Annamite mountains.
“When our team first looked at the photos we couldn’t believe our eyes,” Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh, the World Wildlife Fund director in Vietnam, said in a statement announcing the photos. “Saola are the holy grail for South-east Asian conservationists so there was a lot of excitement.”
The last reported saola sighting was in 1999 in Laos, and the last time one was spotted in Vietnam was in 1998, the WWF said.
When the saola was discovered in 1992, it was the first large mammal new to science in more than 50 years, according to the WWF. The animal is a cousin of cattle, and it’s made distinct by its two parallel horns with sharp ends that can grow as long as 1½ feet.
Even 20 years after its discovery, little is known about the saola’s ecology or behavior because the animal is so elusive. The WWF estimates that at most there are a few hundred of them living in the forests along the Vietnam-Laos border.
The photo released by the WWF was taken in September by a camera trap.
“These are the most important wild animal photographs taken in Asia, and perhaps the world, in at least the past decade,” William Robichaud, coordinator of the Saola Working Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in the WWF statement. “They are also inspiring evidence of the effectiveness of the forest guards model to keep saola from sliding into the abyss of extinction.”