The Truth Behind the Jackalope and Those Who Hunt the Elusive Warrior Rabbit
The jackalope is a legendary creature mentioned in the folklore of North America. This animal is described as being a jackrabbit with antelope horns. The creature’s name, incidentally, is a combination of ‘jackrabbit’ and ‘antelope’. The jackalope is generally considered to be a hoax that originated in the 1930s. Nevertheless, this creature became so popular that the city of its origin, Douglas, Wyoming, decided to cash in on the legend.
The Origin of the Jackalope
The history of the jackalope is traced back to the 1930s, and its popularization is attributed to Douglas Herrick, a resident of Douglas, Wyoming. Douglas and his brother, Ralph, were hunters who had acquired some skills in taxidermy through mail order. One day, the brothers went hunting and returned home with a jackrabbit. According to the tale, they brought their catch to the taxidermy shop and threw the carcass of the animal onto the table. It so happened that there was a pair of deer antlers on it as well which gave Douglas the idea of combining the two objects together. Thus, the very first jackalope was created.
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Taxidermy of a Jackalope. ( Magnus Manske / Public Domain)
Others, however, are not convinced by this story and believe that the jackalope does exist but is so rare that they are seldom seen by human beings. Some claim that the jackalope is “a cross between a now extinct pygmy-deer and a species of killer-rabbit”, and that it is native to the American West, in particular, the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and New Mexico. It is also claimed that similar creatures exist in the Old World. One of these is the wolpertinger, a rabbit not only with antlers, but also fangs and wings, which is said to live in Germany, while another is the Swedish skvader, which has the front of a hare and the back of a wood grouse.
Wolpertinger said to live in Germany, similar to the Jackalope. (Hohum / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Proof the Jackalope is Real?
Those who believe in the existence of the jackalope also point to the fact that horned rabbits are depicted in European manuscripts from the Medieval period. At around the same time when the Herrick brothers were making their jackalopes, an American virologist by the name of Richard Shope noticed the Medieval depictions of horned rabbits and decided to investigate this phenomenon. Shope managed to get hold of samples of rabbit ‘horns’ from hunters and carried out experiments on them. Shope’s research showed that the horns were formed of keratin, as opposed to true bone, and were in fact caused by a virus, which he named as the Shope papilloma virus. Additionally, these ‘horns’ may form not only on the animal’s head, but on other parts of the animal’s body.
Rabbit with Shopes Papillomavirus, known as the Jackalope. (Uruiamme / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Although horned rabbits were depicted by Europeans as early as the 1500s, it was only during the 1800s that the first sighting of such a creature is reported. Some assert that the jackalope was first encountered by John Colter, the first known white man to have entered Wyoming. Others claim that it was a trapper who had caught the first jackalope in 1829. Taking Shope’s discovery into consideration, it is entirely plausible that these were in fact infected rabbits, rather than some kind of hybrid creature.
Stories Abound About the Jackalope
Over time, the jackalope was embellished with many incredible stories, so as to make it seem like a supernatural creature. For instance, one story claims that the jackalope is capable of mimicking the voice of human beings, an ability which it uses to elude capture. Another story claims that jackalope milk is an aphrodisiac but it is extremely dangerous to milk this animal. This is due to another claim that the jackalope is an extremely aggressive creature hence being known also as the ‘warrior rabbit’.
The story of the jackalope became so popular that soon there was a demand for mounted jackalopes. The Herrick brothers saw this as a business opportunity and began making mounted jackalopes to be sold to the public. Before long, the city of Douglas too jumped on the bandwagon and by the late 1940s, declared itself the ‘Jackalope Capital of the World’. Needless to say, Douglas became a tourist attraction, and various jackalope-related souvenirs were made and sold by its residence. The significance of the jackalope to the city is evident event today as a Jackalope Day is hosted by the city annually in June.
Moreover, thousands of jackalope hunting licenses are issued by the Douglas Chamber of Commerce each year. Apparently, those who apply for this license cannot have an IQ higher than 72 and are only allowed to hunt between midnight and 0200 on the 31 st of July.
Top image: The Jackalope. Source: Mat Hayward / Adobe.
By Wu Mingren
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