EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS
Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass yoked together.
—Deuteronomy, xxii, 10
Most scientists today would reject the possibility of strange mixtures like ox-horses and ox-donkeys. Nevertheless, in centuries past, scholars did widely claim that such hybrids exist. Indeed, many asserted that they themselves had seen creatures of this sort. And the video at right, of a living animal with a cow’s head but horselike hindquarters and tail, lends credence to their claims, in that it seems to confirm that horse-cow hybrids actually can be produced, at least on rare occasion (as do the numerous reports quoted below). Such animals are known by various names (see list at the bottom of this page), but perhaps the most common is jumart. This word has been used in English since at least the mid-eighteenth century, as evidenced by it's presence in Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, defined as “The mixture of a bull and a mare.”
There is a great deal of evidence that jumarts exist, eyewitness testimony, veterinary reports, comments of breeders, photographs and even the video shown here (and two additional videos embedded lower down on this page). But it seems such animals are quite rare, which would explain, at least in part, why they are not better known. The most obvious obstacle to the full acceptance of their existence is the lack of any DNA study verifying a particular specimen as a definite horse-cow hybrid (to my knowledge, no alleged specimen has been tested in this way). This page, however, attempts to collect whatever evidence is in fact available for this cross, and presents that evidence in an historical format.
The existence of such creatures has been reported since ancient times. A famous example is Alexander the Great’s steed Bucephalus, whose name literally meant, “ox-headed” (see image right). Many classical authors seem to have taken it for granted that Bucephalus had the body of a horse but the head of a bull. Thus, Arrian (Anabasis, V, 18) writes that “The mark by which he was said to have been particularly distinguished, was a head like an ox, from whence he received his name Bucephalus.” As portrayed on ancient coins contemporary with the life of the animal, Bucephalus did have horns like a bull. Chares of Mytilene, an historian who attended Alexander’s court, wrote that Alexander’s father Phillip paid 13 talents for the animal, an equivalent of 312,000 sesterces in Roman money (see Gellius, Attic Nights, V, 2). This would amount to something like a million dollars in modern money, so cow-horse hybrid or not, Bucephalus must have been a very special animal.
The scientific story of the jumart begins in the 16th century with Conrad Gesner, the founder of modern zoology, who, in his Historiae Animalium (Liber I, De Quadrupedibus viviparis, 1551, p. 19), writes,
In the same place, he mentions a cow-horse hybrid, saying that he has
Gesner, who was Swiss himself, was a professor at the Carolinum, the precursor of the University of Zürich. He later refers to the same event (Gesner 1551, p. 106):
One source of this information was likely the physician Jakob Ruf (1505-1558), who, according to his German Wikipedia biography, lived as a young man in a cloister at Chur up to the time of the Reformation in 1526, but later lived in Zurich, where he became the leading surgeon of the city. In his De conceptu, et generatione hominis, he mentions this same birth (Ruf 1587, p. 48), and gives a brief description:
Julius Caesar Scaliger, a scholar of the same era as Gesner and Ruf, called a hybrid of this type a “hinnulus.” He said (Scaliger 1612, p. 650; see also p. 349) it
The Gabali and Arverni were two ethnic groups native to France. The former lived in the southeastern region of Aquitaine, the latter, in the Auvergne in central France.
Likewise, Giambattista della Porta, the Italian scholar, polymath and playwright, avers that “I myself saw at Ferraria [i.e., Ferrara], certain beasts in the shape of a Mule, but they had a Bull’s head, and two great knobs in the stead of horns.”
Paul Zacchias (1584-1659), personal physician to popes Innocentius X and Alexander VII, long resided at Rome. In his best known publication Quaestiones medico-legales (1651, p. 504), he winds up a section on hybrids by describing a jumart, which he claimed was for many years in the possession of Cardinal Borghesi.
And in the early eighteenth century, Dr. Patrick Blair (c. 1680–1728), a Scottish surgeon and a Fellow of the Royal Society, informs his readers that from “a Bull and a She-Ass is procreated a certain Animal, called Joumar, as I am credibly inform’d by the intelligent Dr. Sherard, who has often seen them in Turkey, where they are very frequent, and of great Use, as being excellent Beasts of Burthen, and of a quick Pace upon a March, a property not very incident either to Father or Mother. This Animal is a compound Mixture of both, and by being so, of a very unusual Shape” (Blair 1720, Part II, p. 310).
Indeed, eighteenth-century books on horse breeding gave explicit instructions on how to breed horse-cow hybrids, as shown here:
In late eighteenth-century France, belief in this equid-bovid hybrid seems to have been extremely widespread. For example, after the French Revolution the new official calendar renamed the months, and gave names taken from nature to each individual day of the year. The name of the 15th day of the new month of Messidor was Jumart. A French encyclopedia (Cours d'études encyclopédiques ou nouvelle encyclopédie élémentaire, vol. 6, p. 40), published during the revolutionary era, lists the beasts of burden as follows: “the horse, the ox, the ass, the mule, and the jumart.” Voltaire, widely considered one of France’s greatest Enlightenment writers, accepted the reality of cow-horse hybrids as much as he did that of mules (see Voltaire 1792, p. 200).
Zirkle (1935, p. 34) says this cross “was cited as an authentic instance of hybridization for well over two hundred years.” He also notes that many of the descriptions “seem to be independent eyewitness accounts from several different countries, and no one ever seems to have doubted the creature’s existence.” This last statement, however, is not entirely accurate; many people, for example Buffon (1749-1804, vol. 14, p. 398), did express doubts, which is not surprising, given that cattle are artiodactyls (“even-toed ungulates”) while horses and asses are perissodactyls (“solid-hoofed ungulates”), that is, they belong to two separate mammalian orders. In other words, on the basis of their scientific classifications, a horse and a cow are as distantly related as a pig and a chimpanzee.
But there were also many who adamantly embraced the reality of cow-horse hybrids (the longstanding controversy was similar to that seen in the case of cat-rabbit hybrids at the present day), especially in France. Thus, in his Histoire générale des animaux even the doubting Buffon included this illustration of a jumart, since he realized that his readers would expect to see one alongside pictures of oxen, horses, mules, donkeys, and all the other common animals:
One eyewitness from that era was Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti (1719-1789). Baretti was an Italian literary critic, translator and writer. In his book An Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy (London, 1769, vol. 2, pp. 281-285), he states the following:
As for the carrying of burthens, we [i.e., the Italians] make use of mules, and of another animal called Gimerro [In a footnote here Baretti says, “Gimerro in English is Jumart.”], expecially throughout the mountains where horses would soon perish.
Of mules we have great droves continually carrying merchandises, particularly over those parts of the Apennine that answer to the port of Leghorn; those of the Alps that lie between Italy and Savoy, Switzerland, and Tyrol; and those which geographers call the Ligurian Alps. Some of the muleteers of the Apennine draw even carts with mules; but those of the Alps never do, or at least I never saw any that did. Perhaps the greater height of the Alps and their unconquerable ruggedness causes the want of this convenience.
It will not be improper to say something of the gimerros, as I find that no travel writer, of the many I have read, has ever mentioned them, and that they are but little known even to those of my English friends who delight in various and extensive reading. A gimerro is an animal born of a horse and a cow; or of a bull and a mare; or of an ass and a cow. The first two sorts are generally as large as the largest mules, and the third somewhat smaller. I have been told by some muleteers in several parts, that the sires of these animals are first shewn a female of their species just before the leap; then led forcibly to one of the species intended, which is kept at hand. The Alpine peasants assure us, that they might get a fourth kind between a bull and a female ass, but that they ordinarily prove sorry things. Of the two first sorts I have seen hundreds, especially at Demont, a fortress in the Alps (about ten miles above the town of Cuneo), that was much talked of during the last war between the French and the Piedmontese. There many of these gimerros were used, chiefly in carrying stones and sand up to the fortress that was then a-building on a high rocky hill. Of the third species, I rode upon one from Savona to Acqui, so late as the year 1765. [Here, Baretti inserts the following footnote: “Savona is a town on the Ligurian coast, belonging to the Genoese, and Acqui is the capital of Upper Monferrat, belonging to the king of Sardinia.”] It was a sluggish beast, scarcely sensible of the bit and whip; but wonderfully sure-footed; and riding that way in January, as I did, in a most rugged by-road, the whole country round covered in a deep snow; many a mile in a narrow path, often on the brink of a precipice, and all the north sides of the frequent cliffs (over which I was to go) perfectly hidden under the hardest ice; going such a way, I say, I had really need of such a beast, that was very careful not to fall.
The gimerros resemble the mules so much, that, if you are not told, you will scarcely ever think of the difference, which chiefly consists in the ears, not so long as those of the mules; in the parts of the head about the nostrils and mouth, which in the gimerros are generally rounder than in the mules; and in the middle of the back, which is sharper in the mules than in the gimerros. Those between a bull and a mare have likewise a fiercer aspect than the other two species; and the species of that on which I went that journey, have upper fore-teeth remarkably more forward than their under; yet they feed very well. A careful examiner, I believe, would discover more distinguishing characteristics of the gimerros than I did. My eyes, which are none the best, and consequently not much used to survey objects with great exactness, did not help me to more.
So then, are these animals really horse-cow hybrids? A key to resolving this controversy will no doubt prove to be the fact that specimens are available, at least two at Kitale Nature Conservancy (the living animals shown in the videos above), and a skull in a Paris museum. Since these three would probably all be F₁ hybrids, it would be easy to test them with molecular genetic techniques. And given that there are at least two present in a single facility, at Kigale, they are probably not so rare that diligent search would fail to locate others. (If you are aware of others, please contact this website.)
I was first led to the Paris specimen after reading Ackermann (1898, p. 74), who stated that there was a skeleton of a jumart in France in the collection of the Musée Fragonard d’Alfort, an anatomical museum associated with the French National College of Veterinary Medicine at Alfort (Écoles nationales vétérinaires d’Alfort), located today in a suburb of Paris. Ackermann’s assertion prompted me to explore the museum’s website, which did indeed turn out to have a page discussing jumarts, and which includes a photograph of a skull (see figure above at right and high resolution image below). The following is a translation of that page (accessed Apr. 20, 2010): “Monstrosities were little studied in the early years of the Écoles Vétérinaire, but there is one exception that stirred a longstanding controversy: the jumard (or jumart or joumart). This animal,
The jumart skull mentioned in this translated text is pictured on the same webpage, which is somewhat surprising given that horse-cow hybrids today are generally considered imaginary, and given the museum website’s claim that they do not exist “triumphed.” The skulls of mythical animals do not end up in museum collections. So either this type of hybrid has been produced, or the skull pictured is a fake or that of some other creature. Note, however, that this skull, which the Alfort Museum describes as a jumart’s, differs markedly from that of a cow, horse or ass (see pictures above, comparing these skulls). So if it is not a jumart, what is it? And what is the animal shown in the video at the top of this page? Here is an enlargeable image of the Alfort skull:
The French college of veterinary medicine is one of the world’s oldest. Its main branch at Alfort opened in 1766, and its museum, the Musée Fragonard, located at that branch, opened in the same year. The founder of both (as well as the original branch of the college at Lyon, which first opened its doors on January 1, 1762), the veterinary surgeon Claude Bourgelat (1712-1779), began the museum’s collection. He was a member of both the French and Prussian academies of sciences. Many veterinary colleges in other countries were founded by his students, who took the French college as their model.
Charles Bonnet, a Swiss scientist, was one of the foremost naturalists of the eighteenth century. While updating his Oeuvres d'histoire naturelle et de philosophie, an encyclopedia of natural history, he happened to read about a jumart supposedly once in Bourgelat’s possession. As a result, he writes the following (Bonnet 1779, vol. 6, pp. 349-352): “Confronted with authorities of conflicting opinion, I greatly desired to be able to make up my mind
The skull pictured above is apparently that of one of the jumarts Bourgelat claimed to have had in his possession during the years he served as director and inspector general of the school. There seems little doubt that such is the case, given that the museum website describes it as the skull of a jumart, and explicitly states that it “dates from the time of Bourgelat.” Moreover, it is well-known that Bourgelat began the collection that later became the museum’s.
In the present context, it appears significant that (1) descriptions of jumarts regularly mention that the upper jaw is much shorter than the lower (the usual distance mentioned is “an inch and a half”), and (2) that in the picture shown above, of what the museum website describes as the “skull of a jumart,” (“tête osseuse de jumard”) that the incisors in the upper jaw do, in fact, fall far short of those in the lower. This is not the case in a horse or an ass, and a cow does not have upper incisors. There seems to be no known animal with a similar mismatching of the incisors, nor one with a tooth and skull configuration like that seen in this putative jumart. In an old description of these animals, Leger (1669, p. 7) says this mismatch generally prevented the jumarts he saw from grazing, except in fields with long grass they could crop by pulling it off with their tongues. Similarly, Paul Zacchias (quoted above) mentions that an old jumart belonging to Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633) had to be put down because it could not eat grass or hard food.
There is also the fact that this specimen has an obvious knob or prominence over each eye, another feature regularly mentioned in accounts of jumarts. (These knobs are better visible in the smaller of the two images of the Alfort specimen shown above, as the larger image was taken from an angle that makes it harder to see them.)
In the article quoted above, Bonnet (1779, vol. 6, pp. 351-352) includes an excerpt from Bourgelat’s letter, a section describing the anatomy of a female jumart: “Fear of altering the anatomical description of this jumart in abridgment has prompted me here to transcribe nearly word for word from M. Bourgelat’s letter. In its external appearance, this animal has a mouth or muzzle like that
Louis-Furcy Grognier (1774-1837), a member of the Academie Français and the French Society of Medicine, was a professor, and later, the director of the École nationale vétérinaire at Lyon. Like many French veterinarians of his era, Grognier believed that horse-cow hybrids exist, though he considered them rare. Thus, he says (Grognier 1841, pp. 83-84; see also Grognier 1805, p. 188), “Enlightened individuals worthy of credence claim to have seen these animals [but] most naturalists deem them imaginary. However, whatever the differences may
The encyclopedist Victor d'Azyr (1821, p. 391) concurred with Grognier’s view that hybrids of this type are rare, for he says that in his native Cantal (a little populated region in the Auvergne) he had seen only two, though, he adds, several other people from the same region had assured him that they had seen others. Given that these animals are rare, if they exist at all, the attitude expressed by Grognier (1805, p. 194) seems reasonable enough:
In the same publication, Grognier (1805, pp. 194-195) mentions his friend and colleague, Claude Julien Bredin, who also served (from 1815 to 1835) as Director of the French School of Veterinary Medicine at Lyon, “while at Sospello [modern Sospel] in the Maritime Alps department [of southeastern France] where he was performing his duties as a veterinarian to the artillery, was shown an animal that was supposed to be the offspring of a bull and a she-ass. It was 3 feet 5 inches in height. Its body
Many French naturalists, however, who were not veterinarians held the opposite view. This school of thought seems traceable in its origins primarily to the Comte de Buffon (Histoire Naturelle, 1829, vol. 16, pp. 392-393), who tried and failed to produce a horse-cow hybrid: “On my family estate, in 1767 and subsequent years, the miller had a horse and a bull who lived in the same barn, and who
But not everyone agreed with Buffon, and many veterinarians continued to believe in horse-cow hybrids long after Buffon was dead, perhaps because reports of such animals continued to crop up. For example, the following brief notice about a horse-cow hybrid appeared on page 3, column 4, of the January 5, 1872, issue of The True Northerner, a newspaper published in Paw Paw, Michigan (source): “The latest freak of nature is an animal at Council Bluffs [Iowa], which is half horse and half cow.” A similar notice, but in this case reporting a cyclops, appeared on page 16, column 2, of the July 23, 1893, issue of The Indianapolis Journal, a newspaper published in Indianapolis, Indiana (source): “A monstrosity in the shape of a colt with a head like a calf and having but one eye and no mouth was foaled on the Fair ranch in Sonoma County, California. It lived for two hours after its birth. The dam was a large draft mare.”
Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, the eminent French zoologist Paul Gervais (1855, p. 154) commented that “Naturalists have accepted the opinion of Buffon, but such is not the case with veterinarians, who are far from convinced.” (Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.)
He went on to explain why he did not believe in jumarts himself: “Unfortunately, these singular productions have either not been described with the care they deserve, or in those cases where they have been, they are easily recognized as
It's easy enough to see why Gervais might suppose that all horse-cow hybrids are inviable. In fact, many of them are. It’s a wide cross, and in wide crosses, the percentage of inviable hybrids is usually higher, all other things being equal. For example, an inviable horse-cow is reported in the following article from page 2, column 6, of the September 30, 1879, issue of the Hamilton Spectator, a newspaper published in Hamilton, Victoria, Australia (source).
And yet 14 years after Gervais’ death we find a news report of a cow calving, not one, but two perfectly viable horse-cow hybrids. The following article originated with the Dunedin Star, a newspaper in Dunedin, New Zealand. But here it is transcribed from page 4, column 1, of the July 18, 1893, issue of the Poverty Bay Herald, a newspaper published in Poverty Bay, New Zealand (source).
Occasional reports of such hybrids continued into the twentieth century. The following appeared on page 5, column 1, of the February 22, 1905, issue of the Keowee Courier, a South Carolina newspaper (source).
The following report about a colt with a cow’s hoof appeared on page 4, column 4, of the April 25, 1908, issue of Pullman Herald, a newspaper published in Pullman, Washington (source):
In a similar case later that same year, a pony foaled by a Shetland mare in Nevada, Iowa had three cow’s hoofs instead of one. The report appeared on page 8, column 1, of the June 11, 1908, issue of the Monroe City Democrat, a newspaper published in Monroe City, Missouri (source). The same story appeared in many other papers across the country (for example).
Another case of a horse with cow hooves is described on page 2, column 4, of the July 17, 1902, issue of Jamestown Weekly Alert, a newspaper published in Jamestown, North Dakota (source):
On a separate page of this website a putative deer-horse hybrid is pictured which had deer hooves protruding from both of its front fetlocks. From the standpoint of taxonomic classification, deer-horse hybrids are similar to cow-horse hybrids.
The following report about a horse-cow appeared on page 2, column 4, of the August 3, 1901, issue of The Broad Ax, a newspaper published in Salt Lake City, Utah (source):
Another report alleges a three-way horse-cow-deer hybrid (perhaps simply a horse-cow hybrid?). It appeared on page 2, column 4, of the July 9, 1910, issue of the Charlevoix County Herald, a newspaper published in East Jordan, Michigan (source). It reads as follows:
A second report about the same animal described in the article immediately above supplies some additional information. It appeared on page 2, column 4, of the March 17, 1910, issue of the Heppner Gazette, a newspaper published in Heppner, Oregon (source). It reads the same as the article above, but has different headlins and adds a paragraph:
…On one of its front legs there protrudes a twin horn which measures four feet and ll inches from the tip to the base, turning up at the point and weighing about 25 pounds. The hind leg on the left side is put on backwards, so to speak, all the muscles of the leg are on the inside and the hoof points backwards.
That same year, a horse-cow in Stratford, Connecticut, was mentioned on page 8, column 5, of the November 14, 1910, issue of The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, a newspaper published in Bridgeport, Connecticut (source). The brief notice reads as follows:
The following question from a reader appeared on page 11, column 1 of the March 1, 1911, issue of The Ranch, a monthly newsletter published in Seattle, Washington (source):
A horse-cow hybrid is mentioned on page 3 of the March 17, 1915, issue of Bregenzer Tagblatt, an Austro-Hungarian newspaper published in Bregenz (now in western Austria). The report reads as follows:
A donkey-cow hybrid is reported on page 3 of the June 4, 1917, issue of Pilsner Tagblatt, an Austro-Hungarian newspaper published in Pilsen (now in the Czech Republic. The brief notice reads as follows:
Another horse-cow hybrid is mentioned on page 6 of the October 28, 1917, issue of Grazer Vorortezeitung, an Austro-Hungarian newspaper published in Graz in what is now Austria. The brief report reads as follows:
The gestation period of a cow is about 39 weeks, that of a horse, 48 weeks or more. So the length of gestation in this last-quoted case is intermediate between that of horse and cow. Hybrids typically have a gestation period intermediate in length between those of their parents.
Even more recently, an animal in an English news report appears to be a horse-cow hybrid. It belonged to Frans Buitelaar, a Boston, UK meat dealer back in the 60s or 70s, and is pictured in an online article in the Boston Standard. According to the brief comments accompanying the picture, a local vet was consulted at the time and he pronounced the animal “bovine.” However, might it also have been equine? The Standard’s image is shown below, along with those of a horse and a cow for comparison. Traits visible in the picture that seem consistent with the idea that this animal has equine inheritance are: (1) its very horse-like tail; (2) the rounded hip (i.e., croup) region, which does not at all have the pointed shape characteristic of a cow; (3) absence of an udder; (4) saddle in the back, unlike the straight back of a cow; (5) long, thick horse-like neck.
One might, of course, simply suppose that the image is a fake. However, although the former owner Frans Buitelaar is now deceased, his son, Adam Buitelaar, when contacted, said he does remember seeing the living animal and confirmed it did look like the creature shown in the image above. And, moreover, he said it did have a horse’s tail. He also said that it was a female, which would make the fact that it lacked an udder very peculiar indeed—if it were a pure cow. Moreover, the two animals shown in the videos on this page above have a similar structure, and videos are far more difficult to fake than photos.
It can be seen that the Buitelaar animal differs substantially from the creature shown in Houël’s eighteenth-century illustration. Possibly, this discrepancy simply reflects a high order of variability in the offspring from this cross, as is the case with certain other distant hybrids. The structure of the Buitelaar animal is, however, consistent with the brief descriptions of the Buchau, Neudorf and Colby animals in that the equine similarity is primarily restricted to the hindquarters and tail. The same can be seen in the two Kitale animals shown in the videos above. On the other hand, the Mountain Rest, Elizabethport and Friedingen animals were reported to have the reverse configuration, that is, they were described as horse-like anteriorly and cow-like posteriorly. And then, some of the early French cases and the New Zealand animals, from their descriptions, seem to have been of an equine character overall. And then we have the two animals born in the U.S. in 1908, which looked like ordinary colts, except that one had a single foot like that of a cow and the other had three. The basis of this extreme variability in what must be F₁ hybrids, if they are hybrids at all, is unknown. In closer crosses, F₁ hybrids typically show very little variability.
As usual, in the case of any hybrid of disputed status, I leave open the question of whether horse-cow hybrids exist, although the videos on this page do confirm, at the very least, that animals combining equine and bovine traits do exist and are viable. Reservation of judgment on such issues, however, is a matter of strict policy here on this website. However, it is clear that genetic testing of the alleged jumart skull (pictured above) held in the Musée Fragonard’s collection, and of the two Kitale animals, would help to resolve this issue, at least with respect to that particular specimen (such testing would be straightforward given that it is presumably an F₁ hybrid, if it is a hybrid at all). Such a study could have potentially important results, in that any definite verification that this specimen is derived from hybridization between an equid and a bovid would demonstrate that the limits of mammalian hybridization extend far beyond what many scientists currently believe possible.
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