A cow with a horn smack dab in the middle of its forehead is leading some people to claim the supposedly fictional unicorn is alive and well and living in northern China's Hebei province.
According to Metro.co.uk, the cow's farmer, Jia Kebing, first noticed a small bump on the cow's forehead when it was born two years ago, but he didn't expect it to grow into an 8-inch horn.
But it has, and so has the cow's popularity, even though the presence of two normal horns makes the animal more of a "tri-corn" than a unicorn.
The cow is just one of many so-called unicorn creatures that have popped up over the centuries ever since reports of the mythical creature appeared in India.
Some of the creatures that have been either mistaken as unicorns or cited as possible explanations for how the myth started include:
- The oryx, an antelope with two long, thin horns projecting from its forehead, that supposedly looks like a horse with one horn when seen from the side and from a distance.
- The eland, another type of antelope known for its great strength.
- The Javan rhinoceros, which Marco Polo claimed was a unicorn when he visited Java in the 13th century.
- The narwhal, a whale with a long single horn that traders often claimed belonged to a unicorn.
But while experts claim the unicorn myths are man-made, so are some unicorns, according to Cerridwen Fallingstar, who has come across many tales of unicorns while teaching classes in cross-cultural shamanism.
"There seems to be a history of one-horned goats or cows in Assyria, a kingdom located in present day Iraq," she told AOL News. "They used animal husbandry techniques to move the horn buds of the animals and relocate them in the middle so they created one long horn."
She says animals who go through the hornswoggling tend to be more aggressive and can be used to guard the herd.
According to Fallingstar, this is similar to the technique used by Oberon Zell, a neopagan priest who created some unicorns out of goats that toured with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1985 to 1989.
But while it's most likely that any unicorns that exist are actually horned animals that have been adapted in this manner, or members of species that normally have two horns that for some reason only grew one horn, there are some folks who are convinced unicorns exist.
"Saying that unicorns are fictional is the equivalent of stating that UFOs do not exist," said Seth Greening, a self-proclaimed "supernatural survivorologist" based in Los Angeles. "Of course there are flying objects that remain unidentified. And, of course, there are monocerotes or unicorns. But can a unicorn be a cow?"
Greening says that anatomically speaking, Jia's cow may be technically considered a monocerote, or one-horned animal.
"It certainly does appear to have a single horn growing out of the center of its forehead," he said. "But a real unicorn?"
Greening said that the real test on whether the cow is a unicorn is wholly dependent on the reaction it gets from people who see it in the flesh.
"It is the reality of the people who witness it [that matters]," Greening said. "It's the effect of seeing, touching or riding on a unicorn that makes it a unicorn."
Greening adds that since ancient times, people have attributed many magical powers to the unicorn, such as the ability to distinguish the guilty from the innocent, heal the sick and even restore virginity to young women. As such, Greening says it's important to see whether any of this happens around the unicorn cow.
"To know for sure if it is a true unicorn, one would have to talk to the crowds who have touched Mr. Jia's cow and document how many conditions were healed, how many guilty parties identified, how many virginities restored, etc.," Greening said, adding that he'd love to volunteer his investigatory services to this cause.
Somehow, it seems more likely that won't happen until there's a real unicorn sighting.