The Last Unicorn

I’ve just finished reading a book I wish everyone would read; The Last Unicorn – a search for one of the Earth’s rarest creatures, by William DeBuys. It is a non-fiction account of a journey into the jungles of Laos in 2011 to find evidence of the continuing existence of the saola (not actually a unicorn, thought I’d better nip that one so you don’t get disappointed).

The saola is the last large mammal to be discovered by western science. Unknown to us until 1992, this creature has been living in the high altitudes of the mountains between Vietnam and Laos for centuries in tiny ‘islands’ of habitat that have been ever decreasing. There may only be 70 of them left on the planet.

It would have been easy for this book to be a dry procession of facts, but William DeBuys really brings the reader along on the trek. You feel like you are in the jungle, you sweat, get sick of sticky rice and feel the sting of infected insect bites. It is, simply, beautifully written.

There were parts of the book that brought me to tears (not good when I do most of my reading on the bus) when you see the devastation happening to the forest and the biota, and knowing it is all happening in our lifetimes. Technology and population explosion seems to have sealed the fate for all the animals, not just in Laos and Vietnam, but everywhere. But amazingly, this book doesn’t leave you feeling hopeless and hollow at the end. There is optimism.

The one thing missing, for me, was the call to action at the end of the book. I desperately wanted to do something to help; donate money, raise attention, anything, but he didn’t tell me what I could do. But maybe that’s the point? If biological diversity is to have a hope of surviving on this planet there is no one place we need to focus our attention. All of us need to do everything we can to live more environmentally sensitive lives. All of us need to be aware.

Please read the book.

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