Persian Unicorns
The unicorn of Persia, the fierce and ferocious karkadann, was a terrible beast that could attack and kill even an elephant! The only thing that could tame this savage animal was the ring dove; so soothing did the karkadann find their gentle calls, that it would lie peacefully beneath a tree where they were singing for hours on end.
Though other animals couldn't even graze in the karkadann's territory, the ring dove was actually allowed to perch on the beast's horn. The karkadann, (Monoceros tyrannus) now generally believed to be extinct, was the largest of all modern unicorns. It inhabited the grassy plains and deserts of India and Persia, perhaps even extending to northeastern Africa, and whenever it appeared it was greatly respected for its enormous strength and ferocity. Most reports of its appearance are garbled and exaggerated, for it was often confused with the rhinoceros. However, the karkadann probably most closely resembled an oryx, which is a large and
beautiful type of antelope. Its greatest enemy was the elephant, which it often fought, and it likewise did not hesitate to attack a rhinoceros. Its call is generally described as a deep, powerful bellow that carried for long distances. He was active
all year, and was usually found near sources of water. The Karkadann's footprints and spoor was similar to the other unicorns but larger. The body of the karkadann was as large as that of a rhinoceros, and it had a tail like that of a lion. Each of itsfeet had two or even three hooves, and from its forehead a black horn emerged, which was twisted in the form of a spiral. Its voice was so loud and bellowing that when the karkadann called, all the birds and other animals fled. When it ran, the earth shook. Few animals were willing to stand up to such a creature, and normally even elephants would flee at the sight of a karkadann. Although it was very dangerous to come close to a Karkadann, sometimes cooing like a ring dove might make him tame enough to approach.
Anthony Shepherd recounts another tale in The Right
of the Unicorns called The Twins and the Karkadann.
One morning very early, Shepherd writes, a young man left his home in the desert of northern Arabia. He took with him a camel, a bow and arrow, and a small sack of provisions. Only his twin brother knew his intentions, and he was sworn to secrecy, for the young hunter was planning to kill a karkadann, a vicious brute with one black horn protruding from its forehead. The karkadann's voice was said to be
so terrible that when it bellowed, the birds flew away. No wonder this one - horned beast was feared by all living creatures and left thoroughly alone unless one had a very good reasons for tracking it down. If the young man's family knew of his plans to seek the creature, they would surely have stopped him from going on such
plans to seek the creature, they would surely have stopped him from going on such a dangerous mission.
When the man had been gone for three, then four days, his brother at home began to worry. Finally he too took a camel and set out across the sands. After a while he came upon his brother's leather sack in a puddle of dry brown blood. He fell to his knees, praying for help. When he arose he saw on the horizon the karkadann. This time it had the form of a graceful antelope whose single horn curved over its back. And there across its back was draped the young hunter. The animal tossed its head, trying to dislodge the man, but it could not, for it had run its sharp horn through the man's thigh. Thus impaled, the hunter lay in pain.
The twin aimed his bow and arrow at the beast but did not shoot for fear of hitting his brother. Instead he waited until evening and hid in the tall grass. When morning came, he crept up on the animal as it grazed, and with his dagger, stabbed the creature between the ribs. It fell, screeching, blew out its breath, and died.
The second twin helped his wounded brother. He removed the horn and bound his bleeding leg. They cut off the beast's horn and took it with the rest of the carcass, back to their settlement. There, amidst joyful shouts of greeting, the fat of the karkadann was rubbed on the grandfather's aching knuckles and hips. He felt great relief. The meat of the animal was used to get rid of the demons that had been haunting the Aunt of the twins' sister. And the horn was made into a flute to charm sheep and snakes. When not used to make enchanting music the horn. served as a talisman [good - luck charm] against the bite of the dreaded scorpion. This was a valuable animal indeed.
Shepherd believes the unicorn of fable was actually the oryx, an antelope native to Arabia. The adventure tale could have been based on a real story. Shepherd says, "The bedouin [desert dweller] considered that a man who killed an oryx some of its virtues, which were those of courage, strength, and endurance. By eating it he became imbued with those desirable qualities." There were other reasons for killing the beast, however, Shepherd says a properly cured skin would bring a high price in the market. The oryx inhabited a part of
Arabia known as the Empty Quarter," an area lacking in food, water, and life. To come upon any animal there was a rare event. The oryx, a graceful antelope when seen from the side, it sometimes appears to have a single horn. Could the Arabian karkadann, or unicorn, really be an oryx?