What is Kirin in animal world?

In some traditional paintings or carvings, you might see a very rare beast: shaped like a deer, covered in scales, with a green body and red mouth, long hair under its chin, and a body emitting flames… Some even have wings. Ancient people called this creature “Qilin,” and it, along with the dragon, phoenix, and turtle, is one of the “Four Spirits,” symbolizing good fortune.

However, if you took this image of a Qilin and looked for it in the animal kingdom, you wouldn’t find it no matter how hard you tried. The truth is, there is no such creature as a Qilin; the real Qilin is actually a giraffe. Why do we say the Qilin is a giraffe?

First, their behavior is strikingly similar to descriptions in ancient texts. The “Mao Shi Lu Shu Guang Yao” states that the Qilin is peaceful, possessing “weapons” it does not use, having hooves that do not kick, and horns that do not gore, embodying benevolence and righteousness. Similarly, giraffes are very gentle animals. Other ancient texts say the Qilin does not bark and can travel a thousand miles in a day. This also fits the giraffe well: it lacks vocal cords and is mute; its speed of over sixty miles per hour indeed makes it a “swift horse.”

Second, the ancient descriptions of the Qilin’s appearance match the giraffe. In the “History of Ming” and “Records of Foreign Countries,” it is said that the Qilin’s front legs are nine feet high, the hind legs are six feet high, the neck is one zhang and six chi and two cun long, has two short horns, a tail like a cow’s, and a body like a deer’s. There is no other animal in the animal kingdom that fits this description except the giraffe.

As noted in ancient Chinese texts, the giraffe’s homeland is tropical Africa. Because Africa was very far from China, it was extremely difficult to bring a real “Qilin” to China at that time. Therefore, Chinese people could not see it in person, relying only on legends and records, which were then mixed with conjecture and imagination, eventually forming this mythical image.

In the countryside, there are still stories of “Qilin delivering children,” a myth that is said to have started in the Ming Dynasty.