Environment

Scientists hope to breed Asian ‘unicorns’ – if they can find them

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Conservationists see only one hope for the saola: a risky captive breeding programme

In 1996, William Robichaud spent three weeks with Martha before she died. Robichaud studied Martha – a beautiful, enigmatic, shy saola – with a scientist’s eye but also fell under the gracile animal’s spell as she ate out of his hand and allowed herself to be stroked. Captured by local hunters, Martha spent those final days in a Laotian village, doted on by Robichaud.

Since losing Martha, Robichaud has become the coordinator of the Saola Working Group (SWG) at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He has dedicated his life to saving this critically endangered species – and believes the best chance to achieve that now is through a captive breeding programme.

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