Rare ‘Asian Unicorn’ Photographed for the First Time in 15 Years in Vietnam Forest


It’s a good day at the World Wildlife Fund when one of your camera traps captures a photo so rare, you won’t find another like it taken in the last 15 years. The photograph shows a “saola,” an animal so rare it is more commonly known as the ‘Asian Unicorn’ and hasn’t been photographed in the wild since 1998.

As much as this is a win for photography and the WWF in particular, the importance of this sighting just drives home how incredibly endangered this animal is. At the most, only a few hundred of the animal are thought to still exist in the wild… and more conservative estimates put their numbers in the tens.

So while these photos might seem a bit lame by photographer standards, don’t discount their importance. “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 WWF-Vietnam Director Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh in the press release. “This is a breath-taking discovery and renews hope for the recovery of the species.”

A total of three photographs of the ‘unicorn’ (the animal actually has two horns) were captured. Here are the other two, as well as a color photo taken in the mid 90s that shows the saola much more clearly:



Female saola, Lak Xao, Bolikhamxay Province, Laos, 1996

Female saola, Lak Xao, Bolikhamxay Province, Laos, 1996

Now that they’ve caught sight of the saola, conservationists in the area have a renewed vigor that stems from this proof that what they are doing is actually working.

“This is a monumental find and comes at a critical moment in time for saola conservation,” said Dr. Barney Long, Director of Species Conservation Program at the WWF. “It’s a huge reward for decades of tireless work by the provincial government… Now it’s time to double our efforts to recover this iconic species.”

Today, this photograph is rare enough to make headlines in major outlets and photo blogs alike. In the future, hopefully we’ll see many beautiful photos of these animals taken by wildlife photographers instead of camera traps.

(via CNN)

Image credits: Camera trap photographs courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund. Female saola photograph by William Robichaud.

  • Jordan Butters

    I came here for the tens of comments about how this was an awful photograph – how poor the composition was, how the lighting was terrible and how much better a random Petapixel reader could have done.

    I must be early.

  • Zack

    It was a camera trap….not a photographer. I’m assuming something moves, it takes a picture..

  • Stan Perry

    The name was provocative … thats why i came …

  • greenarcher02

    People need to learn to appreciate science as well, not just photographs. And I guess they’re silent since you’ve pointed this out. :D

  • Lee

    some people just don’t get the humor. o.0

  • Lee

    My question is… why it is call unicorn when it actually have two horns? hm…

  • dave

    my question is if its so rare how can they put a # on how many are in existince???

  • araczynski

    too bad they didn’t bother to upgrade the trap hardware in those 15 years. unless the thing was backing up into the shot to dump a load, there’s no excuse for it making that far without the shot going off.

  • Aiden


  • lololalallll

    It’s a chop. I can tell by the pixels.

  • Renato Murakami

    Nope, still not seeing it. Would someone care to put a red circle or an arrow to point it out?

  • Tyler Magee

    some people have a hard time reading sarcasm. :p

  • Diego

    The spirit of the forest!!!

  • Mike

    Quick! Catch it and sell it’s horns for better erectile performance!

  • Ayn_D53

    So, I’m seeing two photographs that are the same (black & white photos minus the head) and a 1996 photo in color, obviously in a captured environment as the animal has a hand-tied stick attached to it’s neck. And we are drawing a correlation as to the same mythical, possibly extinct beast…where exactly?

  • Telurides

    Learn to read. “an animal so rare it is more commonly known as the ‘Asian Unicorn.’” They don’t call it a unicorn because it has horns, they call it a unicorn because it’s so extremely rare.

  • Alan Dove

    They can’t put an exact number on it, but biologists have several methods that allow them to establish upper and lower bounds of a species’ probable population. Search “mark and recapture” for one method, and those results will also lead you to links for other strategies.

  • steven Ellingson

    “At the most, only a few hundred of the animal are thought to still exist
    in the wild… and more conservative estimates put their numbers in the

    Did you read the same article I did? Sounds like they think there’s something like 50 – 200 of these things or something. Not exactly “putting a # on it”.

  • RMJ

    Propably because it’s almost as rare as real unicorn.