saola in captivity, prior to its deathOne of the world's rarest mammals, the antelope-like saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), has been effectively invisible since 1999, the last time the elusive creature was observed by scientists. Well, one of them finally turned up again. Too bad it died soon after.

A single male saola was captured late last month outside a remote village in the Laotian province of Bolikhamxay. Wildlife officials, accompanied by representatives from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), rushed to the village but the animal had been weakened by its time in captivity and died soon after the team arrived, according to the IUCN.

The body has been removed to the nearby city of Pakxan, where it has been preserved for future study.

"Study of the carcass can yield some good from this unfortunate incident. Our lack of knowledge of saola biology is a major constraint to efforts to conserve it," IUCN saola working group member Pierre Comizzoli said in a prepared statement.

The saola, first discovered by scientists in 1992, looks like an antelope but is more closely related to cattle bovines. It has two horns, but some biologists speculate that the species is the real-life inspiration behind the legends of China's mythical magic unicorn, the qilin.

No saolas exist in captivity. Population estimates, which are a guess at best, range from 100 to 1,000 animals in the wild.

Previously in Extinction Countdown: Experts on the saola: The "Last chance" to save one of the world's rarest mammals.

Photo: Saola in captivity, prior to its death. Courtesy of Bolikhamxay Provincial Conservation Unit