The mystery unravelled after a little online sleuthing yesterday…
My search history took me to some new places
Internet users in China have a long and illustrious history of getting around censorship with memes. I’d heard a bit about this when Chinese censors refused to pass the Winnie the Pooh film because of a meme. But I’d never met the Grass Mud Horse until yesterday.
This strange alpaca (not llama) first appeared in the late 2000s on Baidu; a heretofore undiscovered but resilient creature. Its name in Mandarin is cǎo ní mǎ (草泥马) which sounds close enough to cào nǐ mā (肏你妈), or “fuck your mother.”
An anonymous zoologist on Baidu reported that the cǎo ní mǎ lives in the 马勒戈壁 (Mahler Gobi) desert , and is in constant danger from aggressive , héxiè (river crabs.) 
The grass-mud horse and the river crab from the National Gallery of Australia. Artist Jessi Wong
Ai WeiWei posed naked with nothing but a 草泥马 to cover his modesty. 草泥马 dolls and plushies are sold, and 草泥马 pins can be bought. 草泥马 has stories, memes, comics, and songs.
I couldn’t be more proud of the cheeky, rebellious, subversive 草泥马 and I’m thrilled that it is the mascot for SIGFY in China.
 , māle ge bī, translates to “your mother’s cunt”
 , héxié meaning harmonious society. Posts that have been removed by censors are said to have been or “harmonised.”