The only description of the piscivorous Camphruch is provided by Thevet, who places this unusual unicorn in the Maluku Islands. Paré copies Thevet’s account but locates his “camphur” in Ethiopia, on the Isle of Molucca (!). Aldrovandi refers to the “camphurch”.
The camphruch is amphibious, living on land and in water like a crocodile. It is as big as a doe and has a thick grayish mane around the neck. The single horn on its forehead is three and a half feet long, as thick as a man’s arm at its thickest, and is movable like an Indian rooster’s comb. The forelegs are cloven deer’s hooves. The hindlegs are webbed like those of a goose. Camphruchs feed on fish and swim in both fresh and salt water.
Some believe that it is a species of unicorn, and that its horn neutralizes poisons. It is held in high regard in the islands, and the king of one island proudly bears the name of Camphruch – his courtiers have to make do with the names of lesser beasts, fish, and fruits.
Many of Thevet’s accounts were second or third hand. It is entirely possible that the camphruch was born from a muddle of multiple descriptions – narwhal, fur seal, beaver, goose, and antelope may have contributed. A much later dictionary entry dispenses with all that and describes the “camphur” as a single-horned Arabian donkey.
Paré, A. (1582) Discours d’Ambroise Paré – De la Licorne. Gabriel Buon, Paris.
Thevet, A. (1575) La Cosmographie Universelle. Guillaume Chaudiere, Paris.
Vallot, D. M. (1821) Explication des Caricatures en Histoire Naturelle. Mémoires de l’Academie des Sciences, Arts, et Belles-lettres de Dijon.