The Cryptozoologist



Posted on September 12, 2009 at 2:25 AM

Legendary Sloth-like Creature Might Exist in Amazon Rainforest

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.

Most accounts state the creature 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 armour 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!

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