Shot by a hunter in Celje, Slovenia (map), in August, the roe deer has an extremely rare type of antler deformity, likely caused by an injury early in the antlers’ development. Such injuries are common in deer and often lead to antler abnormalities, including bizarrely shaped racks.
The abnormal antler on this Slovenian “unicorn” is so unusual that scientist Boštjan Pokorny, who verified the animal’s authenticity, said he’s never seen anything like it in nature.
“In this species, only males grow antlers, which are bilateral and usually symmetrical bone structures that appear from two antler pedicles, i.e. extensions of the skull,” Pokorny, assistant director of the ecological research institute ERICo Velenje, said in an email.
“However, in the case of this very untypical and interesting buck, both pedicles, which should be separated, grew up together in one large pedicle.”
Roe deer, the most abundant and widespread game species in Slovenia, are carefully managed by the government, which sets guidelines for how many animals can be hunted each year.
The hunter who shot the “unicorn” selected it for its advanced age and because it had just one antler. Any deer can lose an antler any number of ways, and a remaining antler is referred to as a “spike.” However, from a distance, there was no way for the hunter to know that this animal had a rare deformity rather than a spike, according to Pokorny.
Though the Slovenian unicorn may not be a mythical beast, antlers—which are found in every deer species—are a little bit magic.