When I was a kid, one of my parents’ friends would send me their old issues of Discover magazine. A bit dense for an eight-year-old, maybe, but I enjoyed it, even if the articles about quarks and quantum teleportation went over my head. That was where I read about the remarkable 1992 discovery of a new ungulate living in southeast Asia. New small animals, especially invertebrates, are discovered every year, but mammal discoveries are rare, and the discovery of a 200-pound antelope previously unknown to science is completely unexpected. Scientists had not actually observed the animal in the wild, but they identified it from a number of skins and skulls. Science dubbed it pseudoryx, but its common name is saola, or more poetically, the Asian unicorn.
I looked it up again recently and was charmed to discover that, in the intervening twenty years, it has still never been sighted by scientists. The shy saola is still extant and locals know of it, but it seems disinclined to be studied.
Some things don’t seem to want to be discovered. Others are begging to, hanging around right under our noses, dropping hints and clues as to their existence, and yet we still don’t notice them for years and years. The olinguito‘s habitat in the cloud forests of South America is remote enough, but it found its way into natural-history museums and even zoos long before it was finally “discovered” this year.
Let’s never stop discovering.
Images from Wikimedia Commons.