Chinese cultures have extensive folklore full of mythical animals, many of which are believed to have mystical powers. While most people are familiar with China’s iconic dragons, phoenixes, and guardian lions (or “foo dogs”), another enduring Chinese mythical animal is the qilin.

The qilin is commonly depicted as a mix of horse, deer, and dragon-like features.

The qilin is most often portrayed as a gentle and benevolent antlered creature possessing traits of both a horse and a deer. Sightings of qilin are purported to be auspicious, bringing good fortune to those lucky enough to see one in the wild. That ancient myth might be finally put to the test thanks to footage of a mysterious animal which some are hailing as a true sighting of a qilin.

According to People’s Daily, the footage was captured in December 2016 in the Ebinur Lake National Nature Reserve in China’s remote northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region near China’s border with Kazakhstan.

Could this mysterious animal be behind the qilin folk legends?

A stationary camera set up by provincial wildlife researchers recorded a few seconds’ worth of footage of the animal as it grazed. Sightings of similar animals have been reported in the area for years, but the last alleged sighting took place over a decade ago. Due to the remoteness of the region and the difficulty of the terrain (and not to mention how politically restive the region has become), collecting research on the many indigenous animals in the region believed to be endangered is difficult.  

It would have been much cooler if the one in the footage still had the crazy fire wings. Oh well.

Some sources have claimed that the animal in the footage is most likely either a Gansu Wapiti deer or an Ebi Lake Red Deer, an incredibly rare and endangered species believed to have a population of around only 100. Could the Ebi Lake Red Deer be the animal responsible for centuries’ worth of folklore surrounding the qilin? Until researchers can gather concrete evidence, this creature’s true identity remains a mystery.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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