Saturday, June 29, 2013



It was not so long ago that tales of an awful creature that stalked the Argentine pampas were commonly told. It was difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone who had actually seen it, but many knew of its fearsome power. It was called the Yemisch, and it was a predator that preferred to disembowel its prey. One moment a person or some cattle would be crossing the stream and the next the water would be a blood-red boil. All that was usually left of the victims were greasy entrails floating their way downstream.

That such a creature existed was confirmed by a discovery made in January 1895 near Last Hope Inlet in Argentina. Near the entrance of a cave a group of men found a large piece of skin, about five feet long and three feet wide, covered with coarse hair and pockmarked with tough ossicles. This must have been the skin of the Yemisch. The jerky-like bits were divvied up among the discoverers and fame of their find spread.

Sooner or later word of the find reached the eminent South American paleontologist Florention Ameghino, and he quickly recognized the type of animal the skin belonged to. In 1898 the Argentine naturalist identified the skin as belonging to a giant ground sloth. That this was true was backed up by a story he knew of a man named Ramon Lista who said he had seen a giant pangolin trundling about the pampas.

It could not have been a pangolin, Ameghino knew, but was instead the Yemisch of the native people and the giant ground sloth of scientists. In his report Ameghino wrote:

"Lately, several little ossicles have been brought to me from Southern Patagonia, and I have been asked to what animal they could belong. What was my surprise on seeing in my hand these ossicles in a fresh state, and, notwithstanding that, absolutely similar to the fossil dermal ossicles of the genus Mylodon, except only that they are of smaller size, varying from nine to thirteen or fourteen millimeters across. I have carefully studied these little bones from every point of view without being able to discern any essential difference from those found in a fossil state. These ossicles were taken from a skin, which was unfortunately incomplete, and without any trace of the extremities. The skin, which was found on the surface of the ground, and showed signs of being exposed for several months to the action of the air, is in part discolored. It has a thickness of about two centimeters, and is so tough that it is necessary to employ an axe or a saw in order to cut it. The thickest part of the skin is filled by the little ossicles referred to, pressed one against the other, presenting on the inner surface of the skin an arrangement similar to the pavement of a street. The exterior surface shows a continuous epidermis, not scaly, covered with coarse hair, hard and stiff, having a length of four to five centimeters and a reddish tint turning toward gray."

The skin indeed belongs to the pangolin which Lista saw living. This unfortunate traveler lost his life, like CreVaux, in his attempt to explore the Pilcomayo, and until the present time he is the only civilized person who has seen the mysterious edentate of Southern Patagonia alive; and to attach his name appropriately to the discovery, I call this surviving representative of the family Mylodontidae Neomylodon listai.

Now that there are certain proofs of its existence, we hope that the hunt for it will not be delayed, and that before long we may be able to present to the scientific world a detailed description of this last representative of a group which has of old played a preponderating part in the terrestrial faunas which have succeeded each other on South American soil.

Ameghino's hypothesis was confirmed when his brother Carlos, the field man of the duo, collected some more descriptions of the Yemisch from native people. It was indeed a large, amphibious mammal that sounded just like a giant ground sloth. They even had some bits of skin like those collected from Last Hope Inlet which they attributed to the animal. Clearly giant sloths were still roaming South America, and they were very dangerous creatures indeed.

Newspapers in Argentina went crazy over the story. Not only had the continent's most eminent paleontologist confirmed the existence of living giant sloths but new sightings funneled their way into the press. The megatherium fever even stretched to England where some naturalists, like E. Ray Lankester, agreed that giant ground sloths may still survive in South America. It is not surprising then that some enterprising souls set out to catch the beast, but all ultimately returned empty handed. It seemed that those who went out looking for the Neomylodon were the least likely to find it.
Not everyone was convinced that giant ground sloths survived into the modern day, however, and some of Florentino's South American colleagues thought that his enthusiasm had superseded good judgment. To check the validity of Ameghino's claim the naturalist Rodolfo Hauthal went back to the Lost Hope Inlet cave to reexamine the evidence. His conslusions were just as startling as Ameghino's.

When Hauthal investigated the cave he found stone tools, hay, charcoal, plant fibers, sloth bones, and a pile of sloth dung several feet high. What could this all mean? Clearly humans and sloths had both used the cave, but Hauthal went a step further to suggest that they had been in the cave at the same time. Humans had held sloths in captivity and may have even domesticated them, Hauthal argued, and the Lost Hope Inlet cave had once been a giant sloth stable. For this reason the kind of extinct sloth represented by the scraps of skin and bones was renamed Grypotherium domesticum, the domestic ground sloth.

(It is also noteworthy that Hauthal and colleagues re-named the animal said to terrify the native people. Based upon the evidence from folklore they renamed it Lemisch listai, a move that irritated some other scientists. In a review of the papers, for instance, the paleontologist J.B. Hatcher objected to 1) using a "barbarous" native word as a genus name, and 2) erecting a new genus and species on folklore.)

It seems that other authorities did not quite know what to make of Hauthal's hypothesis. It was often repeated in reviews and announcements but rarely did it receive further comment (at least in English-language publications). The author of To the River Plate and Back, William Jacob Holland, agreed but it seems that many others did not know how to handle the idea of domesticated giant sloths. Even the paleontologist A.S. Woodward, while skeptical, wanted to know more about this potential relationship between humans and ancient sloths.

In the end, though, the tale of the Yemisch seemed to unravel. J.B. Hatcher stated that he had never heard of such a creature during his time in South America and others suggested that the mythological creature was better understood as an amalgam of a giant river otter and a jaguar. It was entirely possible that the Ameghino brothers inflated what little they had heard from the native people and the newspapers ran with it once it hit the academic presses.

We should not be too hasty in saying that the Ameghinos created a story where there was none, however. Recall that Thomas Jefferson, on first sight of seeing the huge claws of the giant sloth Megalonyx, thought they belonged to an enormous tiger-like cat. If the native people of Argentina did hold beliefs about the Yemisch it is entirely possible that their beliefs were reinforced by finding the plentiful remains of giant sloths. This one sounds like a case for a geomythologist.

(Cryptozoologist's Note: To read portions of the original account of Ramone Lista's discovery of the Mylodon Cave and its contents, follow this link: http/


The Mapinguari (also called mapi, inashi or sloth) is actually believed to be a species of Mylodon, a medium-sized ground sloth, weighing about 500 pounds, and standing up to 9 feet when on its hind legs. They had very large claws that curled under their feet and faced backwards when they walked on all fours. They reportedly ate leaves and may have even been raised by local inhabitants at one time as a source of food, similar to today’s cattle. They were similar in many ways to the modern, though much smaller, three toed sloth and two toed sloth. The Mapinguari is generally thought to have died out around ten thousand years ago (some believe closer to 4,000 years ago) but survived as late as the 1500’s and may even still be thriving in the remote jungles of South America. According to fossil records, these sandy red-haired vegetarians once roamed North and South America, the Caribbean and Antarctica.

The existence of the Mapinguari went mainstream in 1994 when biologist David Oren told The New York Times that the Amazonians were reporting sightings of this ground sloth; however he had no physical evidence to support his theory and as a result the scientific community still considers the Mapinguari, Mylodon, to be extinct.


Some are of the impression that mapinguary is simply another spelling of mapinguari, and that both are names for the same creature; however, this does not seem to be the case. Although there appears to be some overlapping in the lore associated with both creatures, and both are firmly embedded in the local folklore of the Amazon Rainforest of South America, legends of mapinguary describe a hairy biped with characteristics that would tend to classify this beast as, at the very least, a South American version of Bigfoot, and at the other extreme, a supernatural being, which scares away researchers who work in the field of cryptozoology.

According to local native legends, the Mapinguari (or Mapinguary) is a prehistoric cryptid that reportedly lived (and is still reported to live) in the Amazon rain forests of South America, particularly in Brazil and Patagonia. It was consistently described as resembling either an ape or giant ground-dwelling sloth, having red hair, long arms, powerful claws that could tear apart palm trees and rip out the tongues of cattle, a sloping back, a crocodile-like hide that arrows and bullets could not penetrate, a second mouth on its belly and backwards feet (said to make a bottle-shaped footprint). It was said to stand up to 6 feet tall when it assumed a bear-like stance on its hind legs, which it did when it smelled a nearby human. It also gave off a putrid, disorienting stench, emitted a frightening shriek, and could move slowly and stealthily through the forest, often surprising unsuspecting locals. Although it was believed to be carnivorous, by all accounts it did not eat humans. Finally, it was said to sometimes speak and to enjoy punishing hunters who violated religious holidays. Certain lore even seemed to link it with the South American werewolf. The more werewolf-like version of the creature is called the "wolf's cape" and is thought to have originally been human.

Although most mainstream scientists dismiss the Mapinguari as myth, some cryptozoologists believe that the Mapinguari is a close relative of Bigfoot, while others, among them ornithologist David Oren, theorize that it may be a surviving giant ground sloth similar to the Mylodon, generally thought to have gone extinct about ten thousand years ago. It would not be entirely unprecedented to discover a living specimen of a species thought to be extinct for such a long period. In 1972, Dr. Ralph Wetzel discovered living specimens of the Chacoan Peccary, a close relative of pigs and boars, while on an expedition to the Gran Chaco. Prior to his discovery, the only example of this type of peccary had come from fossil remains, and they were generally considered to have died out about ten thousand years ago.

In addition to the legend of the Mapinguari (or also overlapping it) is an even more interesting legend which has developed over the years. It is one that proposes the existence of a lion-sized sloth that still has some arboreal traits. But this beast, called Xolchixe (pronounced shoal-CHICKS-ay) or the Tiger Sloth seems to move much faster than its sloth contemporaries. What makes it even more bizarre is the claim by local natives that it is carnivorous—that is, it eats meat. But if the sloth does exist, how could it become a carnivore?

It has recently come to light that many paleontologists believe prehistoric sloths were not strictly vegetarians, but also scavenged meat, even stealing meaty kills from feral predators. A scene like this was even played out in the Discovery Channels Walking with Prehistoric Beasts program. Could such a creature still exist?

I suggest the possibility that these legends actually encompass three (3) separate entities and that they may be sorted out based on their reported characterisitics, which I shall attempt to do here, recognizing that certain characteristics may be shared by all three. In my opinion, there are enough characteristics that are unique to each of these entities, to validate separating them into at least two separate species of cryptids, or possibly three if Xolchixe constitutes a species separate from Mapinguari. These would be as follows:

A giant ground sloth, possibly a surviving Mylodon.

A South American species of Bigfoot.

Xolchixe (or the Tiger Sloth)
A partially arboreal, carnivorous, lion-size sloth.

All other characteristics, which cannot logically be attributed to any species in the natural world, and are related to other preposterous beings of Brazilian mythology, I have relegated to the supernatural and local native superstitions. These include:

A second mouth on its belly—The only possibility I can think of, which would explain this characteristic as one which might occur in the natural world, would be if the creature has a pouch for carrying its young, and that this pouch has been mistaken for a second mouth by frightened natives. However, as far as we know, such pouches only occur in marsupials (kangaroos, opposums, koala's, etc.), and all living species of sloths are placental mammals, not marsupials. Was the giant ground sloth an exception? There is currently no evidence to support such a supposition.

Backward feet—No known species of animal has "backward feet". First, let's consider the obvious: If one did, they would not be backward, now would they?" Regardless, backward feet would be the ultimate hinderance to balance and locomotion, and would defeat the entire physiological function of the structure of the foot and toes. The only possible explanation that comes to mind is if this observation is based on tracks of the giant sloth, which is known to have had long claws on it's feet that were folded under the feet when it walked.

Capable of speaking—This characteristic obviously stretches the limits of credulity for any creature in the natural world, with the exception of man, certain birds that learn to mimic the sounds around them, and the occasional, dubious report of a talking Bigfoot.

Punishes hunters who violate religious holidays—I think this one speaks for itself. The Mapinguari is also believed to protect the rainforests, and punishes those who overharvest and take more than they need.

Was once human—As previously mentioned, certain lore even seems to link Mapinguary with the South American werewolf. The more werewolf-like version of the Mapinguary is called the "wolf's cape" and is thought to have originally been human.

Having differentiated between what I regard as three separate and distinctive species of cryptids, I will devote the balance of this article to the Mapinguari and the Xolchixe, which I will hereafter refer to as the Tiger Sloth.

Legend has it that arrows and bullets could not penetrate the Mapinguari’s caiman-like hide. A paleontologist’s examination of preserved ancient ground sloth skin samples in the late 19th century revealed hard dermal ossicles, small pieces of bone also found in the skin of dinosaurs and caimans, that protected them from predators. It is possible that such skin would have been impervious to arrows and bullets.


Charlie Jacoby went as principal expert to South America for Giants of Patagonia, filmed in 2005, which aired first on the History Channel in the USA in April 2006. Part of the History Channel series Digging for the Truth, presented by Josh Bernstein and directed by Priya Ramasubban, the programme Giants of Patagonia showed viewers that the giant sloth may still exist. Portions of the following are from a script by Mr. Jacoby for a TV documentary proposal about the giant sloth.

I grew up with an image like this in my head. It is one of the giant ground sloths, the mylodon, a 9ft hamster-like creature which once roamed across Patagonia in South America. Although almost certainly extinct 10,000 years ago, rumours persist that the mylodon still lives in pockets of forest. These rumours were what drove my great grandfather Hesketh Prichard to lead an expedition to find it in 1900 and 1901. Thanks to the Daily Express, I spent a month in Patagonia looking for the giant sloth and following his footsteps.

By the early years of the last century, Prichard had established himself as a first-class explorer, naturalist, cricketer, journalist and, of course, big-game shot. He counted men such as Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic, the author Arthur Conan-Doyle and the African explorer Frederick Courtenay Selous among his friends. Conan-Doyle based part of his book The Lost World on Prichard's adventures in Patagonia.

We are going to use the words of another of Conan-Doyle's creations to track down the giant sloth's habitat—its ecological niche—the "lost world" where it still may live. Sherlock Holmes said: "When you have eliminated all that is possible, whatever remains no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

The first rumours that a giant ground sloth species may still exist reached Europe in the 16th century. Sailors brought home stories of "water tigers" backed up by fossil bones.

This creature is a "su" or "succurath". Reported as early as 1558, it lived on the banks of Patagonian rivers. It had the head of a lion with—according to reports—"something human about it", a short beard from ear to ear, and a tail armed with sharp bristles which provided shelter for its young. The Su was a hunter but not for meat alone. It killed animals for their skins and warmed itself in the cold climate.

In 1789, Dr. Bartolome de Muñoz found Megatherium bones near what is now Buenos Aires. He gave them to the King of Spain, prompting the King to order a complete specimen of the animal alive or dead. Charles Darwin, during his famous voyage of the Beagle, found the bones of a mylodon among his "nine great quadrupeds" on the beach at Punta Alta in northern Patagonia.

The rumours gained more credence in the late 19th century. The future governor of Santa Cruz province in southern Patagonia, Ramón Lista, was riding in Santa Cruz in the late 1880s when a shaggy red-haired beast resembling what he called a "giant pangolin" trotted across his path. He had time to loose off several rounds from his rifle before it disappeared into the scrub, and was amazed to note that they bounced off the animal's hide. Lista only gave a verbal account of this story, to an animal collector called Carlos Ameghino, who told his brother Florentino Ameghino, who was one of Argentina's most notable naturalists and later the vice-director and secretary of the best natural history museum in South America, La Plata, which opened in 1888 outside Buenos Aires.

There is now a giant fiberglass mylodon at Last Hope Sound in Chilean Patagonia, where a German sheep farmer, Herman Eberhard found a near-perfect mylodon skin in 1895. The skin was covered in bony nodules, which may explain what deflected Lista's bullets. Eberhard believed it was the skin of an unknown sea mammal. He hung it on a tree where it remained until 1897. Expeditions to Eberhardt's cave and other caves soon recovered additional pieces of hide.

Another great Argentinean naturalist and explorer Perito Moreno found it, boxed it up and sent it back to La Plata museum, of which he was both founder and director.

Something fishy was afoot, however. The skin's arrival coincided with a story by Professor Florentino Ameghino, a paleontologist in Argentina, that a native Indian had knocked down a mylodon with bolas—rounded stones that are covered in leather and tied to leather thongs, which they used with deadly accuracy—and that he, Ameghino, had the skin.

Professor Ameghino had heard Lista's story and began to wonder if the strange beast was a giant sloth that had somehow survived till the present day. He had already collected legends from natives in the Patagonia region about hunting such a large creature in ancient times. The animal in the stories was nocturnal, and slept during the day in burrows it dug with its large claws. The natives also found it difficult to get their arrows to penetrate the animal's skin. Ameghino claimed that he was so sure this was the creature Lista had seen, that he had decided to name it after him: Neomylodon listai, or "Lista's new Mylodon."

Despite being colleagues, Ameghino and Moreno were enemies. They had strong personalities and different points of view about natural history—and Ameghino was notoriously arrogant. Their enmity started when they worked together at the La Plata Museum, where Moreno was director. Perhaps, the museum was too small for two celebrities like them. It is likely that Ameghino intended to pinch Moreno's mylodon skin and say that it was the Indian's. In the end, he didn't steal it and went quiet on his claims.

Moreno brought the skin to the British Museum in London for safekeeping. It is now held by London's Natural History Museum. In a lecture to the Royal Society on 17th January 1899, he said the animal was long extinct. Dr. Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of palaeontology, said, however, that the skin was so fresh that, were it not for Dr. Moreno, he would have "no hesitation in pronouncing the animal recently killed." The skin story caused a sensation. Giant sloth fever gripped the British public.

Arthur Pearson, who had launched the Daily Express newspaper in 1897, at once despatched his star journalist, Hesketh Prichard, to Patagonia to find it. The words of the director of the Natural History Museum, Professor Ray Lankester, went ringing in his ears: "It is quite possible—I don't want to say more than that—that … [the Mylodon] still exists in some of the mountainous regions of Patagonia."

Head for the Moreno Glacier and you are 150 miles north of the Mylodon Cave and back in Argentina. There's another 800 miles to go before you reach the northern end of Patagonia. It's a big place.

The Moreno Glacier is one of the biggest in the world, which moves slowly in the vast Lake Argentino, the fourth biggest lake in South America. This was the setting for the climax of Prichard's year-long journey through the region.

With the backing of Perito Moreno, Prichard pushed further than any western explorer into the Andes. He found and followed a river he named Katarina after his mother, Kate. He found a new lake, Lake Pearson. He also discovered a new subspecies of puma, named Pearson's puma. All these stories, plus accounts of his adventures and of the dying Tehuelche Indian tribe he published in a book, Through the Heart of Patagonia.

Despite local Indian legends of a mountain ghoul called lemisch or yemische, which fitted descriptions of the mylodon, he found no trace of any giant sloth. He wrote: "Although the legends of the Indians were manifestly to a large extent the result of imaginative exaggeration, yet I hoped to find a substratum of fact below these fancies. After thorough examination, however, I am obliged to say that I found none. The Indians not only never enter the Cordillera but avoid the very neighbourhood of the mountains. The rumours of the Iemisch and the stories concerning it, which, in print, had assumed a fairly definite form, I found nebulous in the extreme when investigated on the spot. Finally, after much investigation, I came to the conclusion that the Indian legends in all probability refer to some large species of otter."

All of which brings us to the present day. With the development of the Carbon-14 dating method in the twentieth century, the age of the Mylodon remains in Eberhardt's cave was apparently settled: the skin was estimated to be roughly 11,000 to 5,000 years old, give or take 400 years. Conditions in the caves may have preserved the skin, making it look fresh to the eye and fooling Moreno. Despite the fact that Hesketh Prichard was vindicated by the carbon-dating, there have been a number of sightings of creatures which fit the mylodon's description, and in locations ranging from the rainforest of the Amazon basin to the southern Andean beech forests of Patagonia.

(Cryptozoologist's Note: Carbon-14 dating is not as accurate as it is often made out to be. First, plants discriminate against carbon dioxide containing Carbon-14. That is, they take up less than would be expected and so they test older than they really are. Furthermore, different types of plants discriminate differently. This also has to be corrected for. Second, the ratio of Carbon-14/Carbon-12 in the atmosphere has not been constant—for example, it was higher before the industrial era when the massive burning of fossil fuels released a lot of carbon dioxide that was depleted in Carbon-14. This would make things which died at that time appear older in terms of carbon dating. Then there was a rise in 14CO2 with the advent of atmospheric testing of atomic bombs in the 1950s. This would make things carbon-dated from that time appear younger than their true age.

Measurement of Carbon-14 in historically dated objects (e.g., seeds in the graves of historically dated tombs) enables the level of Carbon-14 in the atmosphere at that time to be estimated, and so partial calibration of the "clock" is possible. Accordingly, carbon dating carefully applied to items from historical times can be useful. However, even with such historical calibration, archaeologists do not regard Carbon-14 dates as absolute because of frequent anomalies. They rely more on dating methods that link into historical records. Outside the range of recorded history, calibration of the Carbon-14 "clock" is not possible. Finally, it is unfortunate but true that on occasion, mainstream evolutionary scientists have manipulated Cabon-14 dating results to fit evolutionary theory rather than allow the evidence to potentially discredit their theory.)

The common features of mylodon's habitat are forest and grassland; a forest big enough to support a breeding population of these creatures; an area of land that is sufficiently cut off from the world of humans that people rarely see mylodons; and, most importantly, an area walled in on all sides, be it by mountains, lakes, glaciers, sheer cliffs like the plateau in Conan-Doyle's book The Lost World or the walls of a volcanic crater. We're looking for a (prehistoric) refuge, which stops the animals escaping and in which the animal survived the great extinction. Hesketh Prichard would approve of this combination of science and adventure.

The forest theory is well supported. Since 1994, ornithologist and Amazon biodiversity expert David Oren has left his teaching post at the Emilio Goeldi Museum in Belem six times to look for the Mylodon in the rainforests of Brazil. He canoes up and down the Tápajos and Jamauchím rivers uttering soul-wrenching cries in order to provoke a response from mylodons. Stories of Mylodon sightings by local people are what drive him.

In 1975, mine worker Mário Pereira de Souza claims he came face to face with a giant sloth on the Jamauchím. He heard a scream; he looked and saw the creature coming towards him on its hind legs. The animal seemed unsteady and emitted a terrible stench.

On another occasion, Manuel Vitorino Pinheiro Dos Santos was out hunting near the Tápajos when he heard it, he says. Again, there was the scream. It came from a tangle of vines 50 metres away. He dropped the game he had shot and sprinted for the river. He heard two more screams, which he says shook the forest, as the animal moved away.

David Oren has had some success. He has videotaped clawed trees, taped minute-long screams he believes are the sloth's call, and made casts of some big tracks which had backwards-facing claws.

Now we are going to work on the Mylodon habitat photo-fit. Let's pretend that we have a map of areas in South America fulfilling all the criteria we have gathered so far. These are the forest "islands", cut off from the rest of the continent and far away from people. We can remove a lot of these areas by looking at what Mylodon ate—or eats.

We need to become "forensic scatologists". Feces discovered in the Mylodon Cave in Chile reveal that it ate X and X, so we can cut out areas which don't have those plants.

On our new map, we can cut out more areas by working out the minimum size that a healthy breeding population of Mylodon would need. For this, we must look at fossil evidence, at similar browsing forest-dwellers and talk to relevant experts to find out whether these beasts moved around the forest in herds.

Now we're getting somewhere. We need to know whether the climate in the area where we know Mylodon to have been fits the climate in the areas on our map. We also need to check that there are sufficient levels of sloth-essential minerals in the soil, such as cobalt and copper.

This process of layering intelligence on to maps is used by modern armies to predict their enemies' advances. It is called "Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield" or IPB.

We will be left with a handful of locations across the continent. We can knock out a few more by interviewing any zoologists who have worked in any of them and who can make a case for there being no Mylodons. Finally, we need to take cameras to the best of the remaining areas.

I want to be able to stand in a South American forest and say: "This is perfect sloth country: it's X square miles, hemmed in on all sides; it has these trees, these minerals in the soil, this climate, and it's relatively untouched by man."

Our methods of searching these areas can range from the Oren technique of calling the Mylodon through to infra-red imaging. This will be the most thorough attempt to find Mylodon yet made.

This Project: Not for the Superstitious

Many of those connected with the hunt for the giant sloth have died before their time. Bruce Chatwin, whose seminal book about exile In Patagonia was based on the giant sloth story, died aged 48 in 1989. Ramon Lista was assassinated in the Chacos forest in 1897 by two guides who were leading him to the Pilcomayo River. Nobody knows why.

Three leading members of the Smithsonian Institute in the 19th century, who formed a science and drinking society called the Megatherium Club, died in their thirties and forties. The club's leader, William Stimpson, died of tuberculosis aged 40. Robert Kennicott, died aged 30 of heart failure—possibly suicide—on a collecting trip to Alaska. Fielding B. Meek died young of TB. And Hesketh Prichard perished of blood poisoning in 1922 aged 45.

These tragedies are not discouraging the work of the Max Planck Institute in Munich. Scientists there have identified DNA from Megatherium feces found in a cave in Nevada, USA. The next generation of giant sloths could be roaming the forests of southern Germany. But to a boy who was brought up on stories of his great grandfather's exploits in Patagonia, where's the fun in that?


The Mapinguari is described as capable of rising up on two legs. When standing like this it is said to reach up to six feet in height. Therefore, cryptozoologists who are investigating this creature usually think that if it exists, it is really a giant sloth. It's possible that this form of the Mapinguari is the source of the Bolivian jucucu reports. Even its footprints resemble those of the giant sloth.

The Stats – (Where Applicable)
• Classification: Presumed Extinct / Other
• Size: 6 to 9 feet tall
• Weight: 500-2000 pounds
• Diet: Vegetation (Omnivore?)
• Location: South America
• Movement: 4-legged walking (Occasionally 2-legged for short distances)
• Environment: Tropical Forest


The Mapinguari is normally reported in South America. It is said to be largely nocturnal and to have a strange, frightful cry and a foul smell. It has extremely powerful claws that can shred palm trees. Its hair is usually said to be red in colour.

When surprised or threatened, it is believed to rise up on its hind legs, emit its fierce cry and display its claws. It will also become aggressive if its territory is invaded. The Mapinguari has enormous strength and would be, without a doubt, capable of tearing a fully-grown man into pieces.

Most accounts state the Mapinguari is a carnivore, although not necessarily a human-eater. When it senses humans, it stands up on its rear legs and is as tall as seven feet. The nocturnal animal has a lumbering gait like Grizzly bears.
  • It’s said to have a flat snout and, normally, it moves clumsily on four legs.
  • These are large animals of a particular region or time.
  • Generally, they are defined as animals that weigh over 1102 pounds to over a ton.
According to legend, it is slow but ferocious and very dangerous due to its ability to move without noise in between the thick vegetation, its only weakness being that of avoiding water bodies (which limits its movements in a region where so many rivers, brooklets and lagoons exist, especially during the rainy season). However, other accounts describe it as being as much at home in the water as on land.


Ornithologist David C. Oren, head of the Zoology Division of Emile Goeldi Museum in Belém, Brazil, spent eight years gathering accounts of the creature. His findings suggest that the Mapinguari may be a descendent of Megatherium, a species believed to be extinct, and he speculated it might be a surviving Mylodon.

Oren is the researcher who is most strongly associated with the theory that Mapinguary legends represent sightings of living giant sloths who survived the Ice Age extinctions, but there are many other scientists and adventurers who have looked into the problem. Charles Fort was perhaps the first to suggest the survival of giant ground sloths in South America, in reference to legends about the "blonde beast" of Patagonia.

Megatheriinae were a group of elephant-sized ground sloths that evollutionists believe lived from 2 million to 8,000 years ago (some scientists think as recently as 4,000 to 1,000 years ago). Its smaller ground sloth-type relatives were the Mylodon. Giant ground sloths such as the mylodon used to exist but are believed by mainstream scientists to be long extinct. If one still exists then it could be an example of the "Lazarus effect" or more properly the "Lazarus taxon".

The Lazarus Taxon

In paleontology, a Lazarus taxon (plural taxa) is a taxon that disappears from one or more periods of the fossil record, only to appear again later. The term refers to an account in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus taxa are observational artifacts that appear to occur either because of (local) extinction, later resupplied, or as a sampling artifact. If the extinction is conclusively found to be total (global or worldwide) and the supplanting species is not a lookalike (an "Elvis" species), the observational artifact is overcome. The fossil record is inherently imperfect (only a very small fraction of organisms become fossilized) and contains gaps not necessarily caused by extinction, particularly when the number of individuals in a taxon becomes very low. If these gaps are filled by new fossil discoveries, a taxon will no longer be classified as a Lazarus taxon.

(Cryptozoologist's Note: In evolutionary paleontology, an "Elvis taxon" (plural Elvis taxa) is a taxon which has been misidentified as having re-emerged in the fossil record after a period of presumed extinction, but is not actually a descendant of the original taxon, instead having developed a similar morphology through convergent evolution. This implies the extinction of the original taxon is real, and the two taxa are polyphyletic. By contrast, a Lazarus taxon is one which actually is a descendant of the original taxon, and highlights missing fossil records, which may be filled later. A "Zombie taxon" is a type of Lazarus taxon sample that was mobile in the time between its original death and its subsequent discovery in a site of younger classification. The term was coined by D. H. Erwin and M. L. Droser in a 1993 paper to distinguish descendant from non-descendant taxa: "Rather than continue the biblical tradition favored by Jablonski (for Lazarus taxa), we prefer a more topical approach and suggest that such taxa should be known as Elvis taxa, in recognition of the many Elvis impersonators who have appeared since the death of The King." (Erwin, D.H. and Droser, M.L., 1993. Elvis taxa. Palaios, v.8, p.623-624.)

The terms "Lazarus effect" or "Lazarus species" have also found some acceptance in neontology — the study of extant organisms, as contrasted with paleontology — as an organism that is rediscovered alive after having been widely considered extinct for years (a recurring IUCN Red List species for example). Examples include the Wollemi pine, the Jerdon's courser, the ivory-billed woodpecker (disputed), the Mahogany Glider and the Takahe, a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. It should be noted, however, that being "extinct" strongly relates to the sampling intensity and the whims of the IUCN, and that such a period of apparent extinction is too short for species to be designated as "Lazarus taxa" (in its paleontological meaning).

Lazarus taxa that reappear in nature after being known only as old enough fossils can be seen as an informal subcategory of the journalist's "living fossils", because a taxon cannot become globally extinct and reappear. If the original taxon went globally extinct, the new taxon must be an "Elvis" taxon. On the other hand, all species "correctly considered living fossils" (with all conditions fulfilled, living and found through a considerable part of the geologic timescale) cannot be Lazarus taxa.

Another suggestion is that the Mapinguari, if it exists, might not be a sloth but some unusual form of anteater.


Despite repeated efforts, until recently, searches for verifiable physical evidence remained futile. The only evidence for the existence of the Mapinguari was anecdotal. Theories of the identity of the Mapinguari suggested that it was a giant primate, a giant ground sloth, or possibly even an unusual giant anteater, perhaps Myrmecophaga tridactyla.

Ornithologist David C. Oren collected evidence to prove the Mapinguari existed, but most of what he collected turned out to be anteater scat, agouti fur, inconclusive tracks and tree claw marks.Other evidence had been found suggesting the Giant Sloth's survival into modern times. There is reason to believe Indians hunted them. Fresh skin, dung and footprints had been discovered in a cave in the Patagonian region of Argentina in 1895. Tales of the native Indians revealed that when they tried hunting these creatures with arrows, the arrows bounced off their skin. It was discovered that Megatherium had a layer of strong, bony armor in its skin, something also seen in the skins found in the cave. There had also been sightings of giant ground sloths in the area. One of the witnesses was Ramon Lista, the governor of Argentina.

Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence, even eyewitness accounts, do not constitute incontrovertible evidence of the existence of the Mapinguari. So far, there had been no solid physical evidence and no documented sightings of a living Mapinguari...until now!


I would like to personally thank my good friend Randy Merrill for allowing me to borrow his own research on the fascinating Mapinguary and repost it on my blog. His website may be found at The Cryptozoologist. Thank You, Randy!!




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