Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

ShukerNature - http://www.karlshuker.blogspot.com

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com

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Monday, 18 June 2012

THE DAY I SAW A UNICORN ON SAFARI

Behold, the unicorn! (Dr Karl Shuker)

The last thing that I expected to see when visiting the West Midlands Safari Park last summer was a unicorn – but that is exactly what I did see there...well, sort of.

I've frequently read in accounts of unicorns the theory that some reported sightings were nothing more than long-horned antelopes viewed side-on, so that their two horns perfectly overlapped, creating the illusion of a single centrally-horned unicorn. And I admit that I've always tended to think "Yeah, right, I'll believe that when I see it". Well now I do, because I have – and here's the proof!

Driving through one of the ungulate paddocks at the safari park, I came upon an addax Addax nasomaculatus resting on the ground with head raised, the two spiralled horns of this pale Sahara Desert antelope perfectly discernible as I photographed it.

Before... (Dr Karl Shuker)

And then, suddenly, it turned sideways slightly, as I was still photographing it, and there – only for a split second, but right before my astonished eyes – was a unicorn!

During... (Dr Karl Shuker)

A momentary metamorphosis, from a commonplace antelope of reality to a wondrous beast of legend. And then, it moved its head just a fraction – and the spell was broken, the illusion dispelled. The unicorn was gone, as if it had never been, and the addax had returned, wholly unaware of the magical presence that it had briefly conjured forth.

After... (Dr Karl Shuker)

But my camera had recorded its transient alter ego – a single wonderful photograph of a modern-day marvel, a unicorn beheld and bedazzling. And what more fitting animal to have evanescently assumed this fairest of forms than the white-coated, spiral-horned addax?

I felt strangely blessed as I continued upon my safari journey, the image of the unicorn that never was, almost was, and truly was, if but for the most fleeting of instants, still alive and entrancing within the shadowed glades of my memory.

The full sequence of addax-unicorn-addax transformation (Dr Karl Shuker)

Worth noting, incidentally, is that not all unicorn reports described the horn as pointing forwards – some claimed that it was directed backwards, as with, for instance, the desert-dwelling black-horned karkadann of Persia. Similarly, there are several different descriptions relating to its horn's supposed colour – white, black, red, and even all three together!

Two different karkadann depictions

For further information concerning the history and surprising diversity of unicorns, see my book Dr Shuker's Casebook (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2008).

4 comments:

  1. Loving this blog.

    Just gotta note that it's funny that yesterday's Mutts comic was this:
    http://muttscomics.com/strip.aspx?m=06&d=17&y=12

    I don't read a lot on the net, so it's weird to see some of my favorites converge.

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  2. Hi JPL, What a great Mutts cartoon! Thanks for sharing it, and glad you enjoyed my blog post here. All the best, Karl

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  3. Extraordinary illusion! Well done for capturing it on camera. I think I still prefer the rhinoceros origin for unicorn legends. This optical illusion seems too readily dispelled by movement of the observer or the observed. Also, I assume addax are less than solitary. However, the effect is more impressive than I'd previously imagined possible.

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  4. Hi Paul, Yes, I was delighted - and amazed - to have done so. I didn't realise until I looked at the pix afterwards, as I'd snapped one after another withiut checking each one first. True, as I emphasise in my write-up, the illusion is momentary, but at least it does confirm that such an illusion is possible, which until I saw it with my own eyes I'd always doubted. And what makes it even more remarkable is that the addax's horns are not straight but spiralled, so for the two sets of spiralled to pair up precisely, even for a short space of time (until the animal moves its head again) is amazing. My concern with the rhino identity has always been that the horns of rhinos are on or near their noses ('rhinoceros' translates as 'nose-horn'), not on their brows, as in the unicorn's case. Most probably, as is so often the case with legendary or mystery beasts, more than one identity have been combined together to yield a fabulous composite beast that has never existed as a single, unified entity.

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