Asking a Lama to Skin a Unicorn

I’m waiting for books I’ve ordered in the British Library and have been unable to resist searching the electronic newspaper archives. Here’s today’s treat, courtesy of the Derby Mercury, Wednesday January 10th 1821:


Major Latter, commanding in the Rajah of Sikkim’s territories, in the Hilly Country east of Nepal, had addressed to Adjutant-General-Nicol a letter, in which he states that the Unicorn, so long considered a fabulous animal, actually exists at this moment in the interior of Thibet [sic], where it is well known to the inhabitants.”

The major was perusing a Tibetan manuscript when he saw the unicorn listed as a creature with cloven hoofs. It’s local name was the one-horned tso’po. Major Latter was told that:

“… it was a native of the interior of Thibet, about the size of a tottoo (a horse from twelve to thirteen hands high,) fierce and extremely wild; seldom, if ever, caught alive, but frequently shot; and that the flesh was used for food…. They go together in herds like our wild buffaloes, and are frequently to be met with on the borders of the great desert, about a month’s journey from Lasa, in that part of the country inhabited by the wandering Tartars.”

Its tail was “boar-shaped”, its hoofs cloven, a long, curving horn grew from its forehead. It cannot, he maintains, be the rhinoceros as it lives in herds, nor is it a wild horse.

“I have written … to the Guelin Lama, requesting him to procure me a perfect skin of the animal, with the head, horn, and hoofs.”

If you’re intrigued, I can highly recommend The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers.

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