The Fuegian Selk’nam told Lucas Bridges[*] about a strange creature, the Ohi, that was half guanaco and half bird.
Ohi, was a strange hybrid, as it combined avian features with those of the guanaco. Its hind legs were like those of a guanaco yet it had wings. It could not fly, but it ran faster than a dog.
[*] Stephen Lucas Bridges (1874-1949). was the third son of English Anglican missionary Thomas Bridges. Lucas was the first European to be born in Tierra del Fuego. He grew up among the Yagans and learnt their language and customs. He moved from Ushuaia to Harberton in 1887, where his father established a ranch (“estancia”) after retiring from mission work. In 1902 he set up his own ranch at Viamonte, where he would meet and befriend the Selk’nam. His autobiographic book Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948) is a valuable source on Fuegian anthropology.
The guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is the ancestor of the llama, alpaca and vicuña. It is a hoofed ruminant (cud-chewing) mammal distantly related to the camel family (it is a camelid). Abundant in Patagonia, its habitat extends north through Argentina up to Peru and Bolivia. It was the staple diet of the Patagonian natives. It is also found in Tierra del Fuego Island.
Copyright 2007 by Austin Whittall
Bridges was sure that it was the description of a ñandú, but these do not live in Tierra del Fuego (and perhaps never did, though there is some evidence that they may have; see my post on this new evidence Here).
Furthermore, his Selk’nam informants had never left the island so they never had the chance to meet a ñandú.
This led Bridges to believe that they had brought the notion of Ohi from Patagonia before the end of the last Ice Age cut them off from the mainland when the Strait of Magellan flooded and filled with sea water isolating the Selk'nam in Tierra del Fuego.
The Patagonian ñandú or choique, also known as Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata), is a flightless bird similar to an ostrich. It is 1 m (3.3 ft.) tall and weighs 20 kg (44 lb.). It can run at speeds of up to 60 km/h (37 mph). Like the Australian Emu, it has three toes on its feet (Ostriches only have two).
Darwin had heard from the local gauchos that the Patagonian variety of ñandú was shorter and smaller than the one found in the Pampas, he confirmed this during his voyage by Patagonia. In 1837 naturalist John Gould described the animal and named it Rhea Darwinii after Darwin. But, the first European to report this animal was French naturalist Alcide D'Orbigny, who in 1834 had seen the bird and named it Rhea pennata.
The myth may also indicate that some other kind of flightless bird managed to survive the megafaunal extinctions during deglaciation and lived isolated in Tierra del Fuego until it was hunted to death by the natives. However there is no proof of any other flightless bird in Patagonia beyond the Lesser rhea.
 Bridges, L., (2008). El último confín de la tierra. B. Aires: Editorial Sudamericana. pp. 432.
Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©