Monday, 20 September 2010

the tiger and the 'unicorn'

Two stories dominated last week's headlines in the nature world. One involved the discovery of the lost tiger population in Bhutan while the other was the re-discovery of one of the world's rarest mammals.

News of the former can be found on today's edition of BBC's Earthnews . The BBC natural history camera crew has, following reports by villagers, managed to film a pair of large tigers in the Bhutan highlands. This discovery has stunned experts because it confirms that tigers can live and breed at higher altitudes. Furthermore, it is the only place on earth known to have tigers, leopard and snow leopards all sharing the same valley. Such a discovery is important and crucial as it is a means of saving the species from extinction by creating what is known as a "tiger corridor". Essentially, this involves linking up many of the surviving tigers to encourage breeding so as to bolster the genetic diversity of those surviving. With the discovery of this pair in Bhutan, the Himalayas can now be included in the tiger corridor along with Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

The other great discovery is that of the Saola in Laos, sometimes called the Asian 'Unicorn'. This animal was captured by villagers in Laos in August but sadly, died after Laotian conservation authorities confirmed the ID of the mammal. While the death is unfortunate, the discovery is important because it confirmed that this species was alive and that it still occurs in the area where it was caught. This is the first confirmed sighting of a Saola since 1999 when remotely triggered cameras took images of one in Laos. It resembles an African antelope with 2 large horns, but it is more closely related genetically to wild cattle. It was first discovered in 1992 in South Asia and biologists estimate that there are probably fewer than a few hundred Saolas roaming the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam.

This capture highlights the importance of Laos to global wildlife conservation since, like the Saola, several other rare endemic species are found almost nowhere else in the world. Hopefully, more will be done to do what is necessary to preserve and protect what's left of this species.

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