In the Central Asia, there have been a legend about unicorns living in Tibet, as least since the time of Genghis Khan and probably older. It is suspected that it was this legend that influenced Pliny's description of the monoceros. Belief in unicorns generally fell out of favor in Europe in XVII century, but surprisingly resurfaced in XIX, after reported sightings in the Himalaya region.
Genghis Khan and the unicornEdit
According to "History of the Mongol-Khans" translated by Isaac Jacob Schmidt, there is a tradition, on which agree the Mongol, Chinese and Muslim authors, that in 1224, after Genghis Khan subjugated Tibet, he set out with his army to conquer India. But as he was ascending Mount Jadanaring, he was approached by a wild beast of the species called seru, resembling a deer, but with only one horn on the top of the head. The creature knelt three times in front of the monarch, as if showing him respect. Surprised Khan said: "They say the Empire of Hindostan is a place of birth of the majestic buddhas and the bodhisattvas and also the powerful bogdas or princes of antiquity. What can then be the meaning of this animal, incapable of speech, saluting me like a man?" Having said so, he turned back and returned to his country.
John Bell in 1720 reported that a Russian hunter in Southern Syberia caught an antelope with a single twin-forked horn in the middle of the forehead.
On the other side of the region, a British soldier, Captain Samuel Turner visited in 1800 the raja of Bhutan. In the conversation, the ruler boasted owning a creature similar to a horse with a single horn in its forehead. The unicorn lives in an unspecified faraway land, where it is paid religious respect. Unfortunately, the captain never had a chance to see the animal.
In 1821, The Quarterly Review reported that another soldier, Major Barré Latter, while reading a Tibetan manuscript listing known animals, found a curious creature called one-horned tso'po (གཙོད།). Having inquired about its nature, he learned that is it cloven-hooved, the size of a pony, fierce and extremely wild, rarely caught alive but frequently shot. Major's informant said that herds of these animals can be found on the deserts of Northern Tibet, about a month's journey from Lhasa. Major Latter requested Sachia Lama to procure him a perfect skin of the animal. He received a single horn, which was sent to Calcutta. The horn was twenty inches in length, black, with fifteen rings on one side.
Julius Klaproth says that the great Tibetan-Mongol dictionary, titled Mingghi ghiamtso mentions the unicorn under the name བསེ་རུ། (bse-ru), pronounced seru in Northern Tibet and chiru in the South. The Mongols call the animal ᠬᠠᠷᠠ kere and the Chinese 獨角獸 dújiǎoshòu, which means "creature with a single horn", or 角端 jiǎo duān, which means "straight horn". The Mongols sometimes confound the unicorn with the rhinoceros, calling the latter also kere. The Geographical Dictionary of Tibet and Central Asia, printed on order of Emperor Qianlong of China, describes a district in eastern part of the province of Kham in Tibet named Seru-jong (bse-ru-rdzong), which means "village in the land of unicorns", because large numbers of them can be found there.
While there were numerous reports of unicorns being present in Tibet, no explorer ever supplied material proof of a creature with a single horn. The chiru turned out to be regular antelopes with two horns. The Russian Nikolay Przhevalsky traveled through those territories and described them, calling them the Mongol and Tangutan name orongo. While people he met rumored about some rare one-horned specimen among regular antelopes, it was never in the lands they lived in. "Had we gone farther", he says, "we should probably have heard that it was only to be found in India, and so on till we arrived at the one-horned rhinoceros!"