The critically endangered twin-horned saola has been sighted in Vietnam for the first time in over a decade, raising hopes of recovery for the mysterious animal, conservationists said on Wednesday.
Known as the “Asian Unicorn” for its extreme elusiveness, the antelope-like creature was spotted in September using a camera trap set by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the communist country’s government in Vietnam’s central Annamite mountains.
“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,” said Van Ngoc Thinh, WWF Vietnam’s country director.
“This is a breathtaking discovery and renews hope for the recovery of the species,” he said in a statement.
Saola, which were only discovered in 1992, have two parallel horns with sharp ends, which can reach 50 centimeters in length (20 inches).
One of the secretive creatures was seen in August 2010—the first sighting in a decade— but it died a few days after it was captured by villagers in Laos, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
It was the first time a wild saola had been spotted since one was captured on camera in 1999 in Laos.
Dang Dinh Nguyen, Deputy Head of Quang Nam Forest Protection Department, said the last sighting of a saola in Vietnam was in 1998.