The Search For The South African Unicorn
Farmer's Weekly|January 18, 2019

The discovery of apparent one-horned animals in Southern African rock art resulted in some 18th and 19th century European explorers believing in the existence of unicorns. By Mike Burgess.

Mike Burgess
The Search For The South African Unicorn

In the West, the belief in unicorns can be traced to ancient Greece and Rome. Today, unicorns are still depicted in many Western coats of arms, including that of Britain. This fascination with the unicorn, coupled with depictions of one-horned animals in rock art, led many 18th and 19th century explorers at the Cape to believe that South Africa was home to unicorns. This thinking might have been fuelled, too, by mammals such as the rhino.

EUROPEAN EXPLORERS

In the 1770s, the Swedish explorer Anders Sparrman became the first European to actively search for unicorns in Southern Africa. It was, however, the Englishman, Sir John Barrow, who first reproduced a drawing of a one-horned animal in the 1790s from a rock art shelter near today’s Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape. The sketch appeared in his Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa as proof of the existence of the unicorn, of which he gave a description.

“Ten feet high, the horn of brown ivory, two and a half feet long, twisted and tapering to a point, thick at the root as a man’s arm, and thick as a man’s finger at the end; hoofs and tail like a bullock’s; a black short mane, skin like a horse’s – colour white, watered with black (I have a pair of slippers said to be made of it); very fierce, roots up trees with its horn, and feeds on the boughs.’’

This story is from the January 18, 2019 edition of Farmer's Weekly.

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This story is from the January 18, 2019 edition of Farmer's Weekly.

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