85 (4) pg 237

‘Le jumart’: myth or mystery in animal reproduction?

There was a time when science still had to ‘hatch’. An era during which man often extrapolatedexisting knowledge to a level beyond reality. That period is not as far behind us as we wouldlike to believe. Breeding of animals has always stimulated man’s fantasy. Out of this, a very interestingmyth - or is it a mystery? - was born: the existence of a hybrid between horse and cow,‘Le Jumart’.On top of the very well-known hybrids between horses and donkeys, the French ‘capitainedes haras’ Francois Alexandre de Garsault (1692-1778) describes the procedure of how to createa hybrid between a cow and a horse in his widespread and well known ‘Nouveau ParfaitMaréchal’, first published in 1741. In depth research showed that he was far from being the onlyone who believed in the existence of such a crossover species. Other well-respected contemporaryscientists even dedicate chapters in their textbooks on this animal, such as the French naturalistand medical doctor Jean-Pierre Buchoz (1731-1807) in his ‘Traité Economique et Physique deGros Menu Bétail’ published in 1778. Even opinion leaders Charles Bonnet (1720-1793) and LazzarroSpallanzani (1729-99) were convinced that these animals really roamed around in Franceduring the 18th century. Finally, even the founder of the first ‘Ecole Vétérinaire’ in the world,Claude Bourgelat (1712-1779) testified in a letter to Bonnet to have admired the product of astallion and a cow with his own eyes. Fortunately, the debate could count on important disbelieversas well, with Albrecht von Haller taking the lead by publishing a paper in the ‘Supplémentà l’Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et Métiers’ (1777), in whichhe calls the existence of the Jumart a ‘fable’. It would take another century for André Suchetet(1849-1910) to publish an ‘Extrait des Mémoires de la Société Zoologique de France’ with thetitle ‘La Fable des Jumarts’ (1889). Extremely interested in hybridization, this 19th century politicianand member of several scientific societies, faces the challenge to finally steer the scientificcommunity to a general conclusion on this enigma. This paper describes in a chronological orderthe rise and fall of one of the most intriguing ‘fabula’ in reproductive medicine and how it tookemerging modern science about 200 years to decide on ‘myth’ or ‘mystery’.

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