The Hunter α (ハンターα,hantā arufa?) (development code: "MA-121") was one of the first fully-functional and marketable B.O.W.s produced by Umbrella. It was created by injecting reptilian DNA into a human embryo and administering the t-Virus as a bonding agent. The MA-121α went through intensive research and development at the underground lab in Raccoon City.
The Hunter Project dates back to 1981, when researchers at the Arklay Laboratory were developing ways to address the statistical 10% immunity rate projected if t-Virus was dispersed as a weapon - larger if people had access to antiretroviral medication.[excerpt 1] The idea of using mutant animals as a means of cleaning up survivors had been tried before, but animal test subjects typically experienced a loss in intelligence, which made them impossible to control and therefore worthless as a weapon for military use. Dr. William Birkin's Hunter Project instead sought to solve this problem another way.
The Hunter Project's initial prototypes were produced by infecting human embryos some three weeks after fertilisation with the newly-developed βII strain (Beta Two) as a bonding agent before splicing in animal genes of reptile origin. The most promising mutant, a female, was subsequently cloned to create a species of identical mutants. Maturation of the Hunters took one year, and involved repeated exposure to growth hormones. The Hunter demonstrated the intelligence equal to that of an Orang-Utan, allowing it to recognise ten different commands taught by trainers. The hard, keratinised skin was also found to form a tough armour.[excerpt 2] Hunter clones were delivered to other Umbrella facilities around the world, from Dr. Marcus' executive training facility to Sheena Island's Umbrella facility.
There have only been three known usages of Hunter α in combat. Dr. Marcus had several Hunters transported to his facility to test their strength with armed guards. Skeletalized human remains found at the Training facility suggest that these guards lost. These Hunters lived long and, in 1998, were released into the training school by the Queen Leech in an attempt to kill S.T.A.R.S. officer Rebecca Chambers and ex-Marine Lieutenant Billy Coen.
At the Arklay Laboratory itself, the Hunters managed to escape into the Spencer Mansion above. It is not understood precisely how this was accomplished, whether being released by Albert Wesker or having previously escaped at the start of the t-Virus outbreak there. Those that were not killed by S.T.A.R.S. agents Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine were certainly killed when the mansion was destroyed on July 25.
Another group of Hunter α brought havoc to Sheena Island along with T-103 Tyrants. These BOWs were deliberately released on the command of Vincent Goldman, who planned to eliminate the entire island's population to silence a career-ruining cover-up. They were wiped out in battle with Ark Thompson, Umbrella's Undertaker Unit, and finally the destruction of the island's infrastructure by explosive charges in November 1998.
Although the α model was one of Umbrella's more successful weapons, the company made efforts to upgrade it. By 1998 the Hunter β was in production, created from genetically-modifying the developing body of an α. The first β was deformed as a result and did not gain the strength of the α models, but exhibited improved reflexes and was cloned. At least twenty βs were ready for combat by September and were deployed into Raccoon City as a means of combat testing. A second attempt to replace the Hunter α was the γ, an entirely new species created by Umbrella Europe in a similar fashion to the original α. They, too, were deployed into Raccoon City and, unlike the βs, continued to be produced. Another model which was in existence in 1998 was the Hunter R, which was in preparation for mass-production in September 1998 and saw considerable fighting when they escaped from their labs. The α model appears to have stood the test of time despite Umbrella's intentions, and bioweapons black marketeers later developed a mass-produced derivative of the α. This model saw action in the 2004 Terragrigia Panic.