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The Last Unicorn by William deBuys
Nonfiction

The Last Unicorn

by William deBuys

Quick take

_I'll admit to a small obsession with Southeast Asia. I'll also admit to a small (okay, large) obsession with unicorns. Understandably then, I was quickly captivated by this tale of exploration, endangered animals, cross-border poaching, and real, flesh-and-blood species._

Why I love it

I'll admit to a small obsession with Southeast Asia. I'll also admit to a small (okay, large) obsession with unicorns. Understandably then, I was quickly captivated by this tale of exploration, endangered animals, cross-border poaching, and a real, flesh-and-blood species. The saola is not a unicorn, but it might be the closest thing we have on earth to the mythical creature. The animal, an elusive resident of a remote, protected mountainous region between Laos and Vietnam, was unknown to western science prior to May 1992 when naturists saw its horns mounted in an indigenous hunter's hut. The parallels between the saola and the mythical unicorn don't stop just with the horns; you're pretty much just as likely to see one as the other in the wild. And that's exactly what scientists William deBuys and William Rochibaud, along with a team of Lao naturalists, set out to do—to record and observe a saola in its native habitat. No easy task, between untrustworthy and ill-tempered hired guides, Vietnamese poachers, rapidly dwindling financial reserves, an inhospitable environment, and deBuys' (self-admitted) past-prime physical state. In addition to deBuys' engaging chronicle of his time in the wilds, the interspersed histories and scientific explanations provide a well-balanced narrative. His descriptions are honest and build into page-turning tension for the reader. You'll be entranced by the portrayals of a very isolated culture and its peoples, the way they live their lives in a swiftly expanding world and the realities faced by the animals and plants that share that world. You'll also become enchanted with the ethereal saola and spend time tracking down the few clear images available of them online. It's rare to be introduced to something entirely new, and deBuys communicates to the reader the awe and excitement that he feels, making this book an intriguing story, even for the non-naturalists among us. The team's quest to find the saola lasts nearly the entire book. You'll find yourself trying not to skip to the end to find out whether they're successful.
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April 2015
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