In On Wisconsin Magazine: In search of the Lao Unicorn

Bill Robichaud (B.S.’83, Zoology) just wanted to go hunting.

He’s always juggling time zones between his work in Laos and his home at the edge of Wisconsin’s Driftless region. Just recently returned from Southeast Asia and still adjusting to Wisconsin time, he had awakened at 3 a.m. and decided to finish assembling a gun. Now he wanted to use it to go deer hunting.

Thirty-five years ago, his older brother Doug had presented this perfect birthday present: a build-your-own, .45-caliber, flintlock Kentucky rifle. Robichaud almost finished the kit, but put it in storage as his home base floated through four states. He drifted further afield, to Afghanistan and Vietnam. Eventually, he found his life’s mission following the 1992 discovery of a rare new forest creature, the saola (rhymes with “now, la”), in the Annamite Mountains dividing Vietnam from Laos. Sometimes called the Asian unicorn, its long horns curve up and slightly backward and look like a single horn in profile.

Robichaud would spend two decades in Laos, and still visits often as head of the Saola Working Group, charged with saving this spectral beast. He saw a saola once, in 1996. There have been only a handful of reports since, and a wildlife armageddon has unfolded on its home range, which makes his desire to go hunting interesting. Hunting is a big part of the problem there — indiscriminate slaughter to feed the wildlife markets of Vietnam and China. It’s nice to be in Wisconsin during deer season, where hunting is conservation.

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