Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Iemisch sighting in Puerto Natales

One of our readers, recently wrote a comment to my post Iemisch the Patagonian Water Tiger, in which he describes a very unusual and interesting sighting of a Iemisch!. I want to share it with you and go over the possible creatures that could have been the "culprits" of this very odd sitghting.

You will notice that I am reluctant to jump to conclusions. That is: hey!!! you saw a IEMISCH! Wow!!.

I am a cautious yet optimist cryptozoologist.

An Unusual sighting in Puerto Natales, Chile

February 21, 2014 at 9:19 PM
hello there Austin , this is an interesting article , my wife and I live in Puerto Natales and were travelling back into Natales in the early hours of the morning on route 9 , when an animal crossed in front of us and I braked to avoid hitting it (it was a close call as I had to reverse to check I had been quick enough ) when I had done so we both saw that it was something we had not seen in the area before, (my wife was born and raised in Natales ) after searching the internet for Patagonian wild life and having no luck with a match , I stumbled upon your site today and the illustration is incredibly close to what we saw ,the other strange thing about this encounter is that the animal showed absolutely no signs of fear given the fact that we had almost hit it with our 4wd, it just continued on its way as if oblivious to our presence , the animal we saw seemed to be heavier than the illustration ,It almost appeared pregnant? as it had a waddle to its gait, just thought we would let you know about this encounter and would be interested to hear your comments on this

The ilustration that they mention is shown below, and further down a map showing the location of the sighting:


Iemisch. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

southern Chile

Map showing Puerto Natales in Chile. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

I racked my brains to find a candidate that was both a regular Patagonian animal but at the same time unkonwn in Puerto Natales, Chile. My reply is below:

February 24, 2014 at 6:34 PM
Thank you for taking the time to share this interesting close encounter with us all.
How big was it? The only other option I can think about based on your comment about it being heavy is that it may be a beaver.
Beavers were introduced into Tierra del Fuego by the Argentine navy to make pelts and then set free!! they are now a scourge in the Isla Grande and moving north along the coast. They have reached the mainland and even spotted close to Puerto Natales.
See the article (it has a photo too) on one caught close to P. Natales.
Do any of our readers have any suggestions?


I have more space here to expand my suggestion that the animal was a Beaver.

Beavers (Castor canadensis) are not native to South America, they live in Northern North America and, as exoctic animals were introduced into Tierra del Fuego in 1946 by the Argentine Navy.

They were trying to establish a fur industry in the region. The venture failed and the animals were set free in Lake Fagnano, which is shared by Argentina and Chile.

The lack of predators and a favorable habitat led to their proliferation. They have caused considerable damage to the island's forests and have further expanded their range to neighboring islands.

They have reached the mainland and have been spotted south of Puerto Natales, close to Punta Arenas, and, as can be seen in the article I quote above, now they have reached Puerto Natales.

Our exchange continues

March 13, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Hello there Austin , thanks for your feed back on this , with reference to your suggestion of this been a beaver , the animal we saw had a long thin tail ,not wide and short as you would expect to see on a beaver , and as for the size ,it was about the size of a small dog and was quite close to the ground , as mentioned before the impression you have of the lemisch in your gallery is almost identical to what we encountered on route 9 , and the fact that this was not a fleeting encounter leaves us a bit puzzled as to what it may have been , perhaps the lemisch is still around in Chilean Patagonia?

Evidently the long thin tail eliminates the beaver (which has a fat paddle shaped tail). Could it be one of the other infrequently sighted Patagonian mammals: the otters?.

March 13, 2014 at 7:13 PM
Maybe it is a Huillin, the Patagonian otter. Quite rare and not often seen.
A picture can be found here...


There are several "otter-like" aquatic mammals in Patagonia which are likely candidates to explain the sighting:

The coipo (Myocastor coypus) is also known as 'nutria' (Spanish for otter). Some English texts call it the South American beaver yet it is neither an otter nor a beaver.


Coipo (Myocastor coypus)

It is a small and stout vegetarian about 63 cm (25 in.) long and weighing about 7 kg (15.4 lb.). It has strong sharp claws and natatory membranes on its feet but not on its front paws.

It is riverine in north western Patagonia and sea-going in southern Chile.

There are two genuine otter species in Patagonia the chungungo or chinchimen (Lontra felina), which lives on the rocky and exposed shores of the Pacific coast all the way to Cape Horn and the huillín or Patagonian otter (Lontra provocax) whose currently reduced territory is located in some rivers and lakes in the Andean forest regions of Neuquén, Río Negro and (maybe) northwestern Chubut. Formerly their habitat included all the great rivers that cross the Patagonian steppe (Negro, Chubut, Corcovado, Senguer and also at Nahuel Huapi and, yes, Colhue Huapi lakes).

The chinchimen, is not very impressive size-wise, it is about 50 cm (20 in.) long, but it is quite vicious; the Spaniards called it "Sea Cat" and noted that "these little animals are as fierce as the wild cats and in a similar manner attack those who approach them and their shout is hoarse and very similar to the roar of the tiger".

The huillín on the other hand twice as long: 110 cm (3 ft. 7 in.); and more fearsome and bold.

Quite big and with short egs they woud be "Close to the ground" and "the size of a small dog" and have a "long thin tail". I took a photo of an embalmed Huillin at the Perito Moreno Museum in Bariloche, I have never seen a living one (even though I have spent many months strolling the shores of Patagonian lakes and plying their waters in boats while fishing).


An embalmed Huillín. Photo by A. Whittall

The American Mink

The American mink (Neovison vison) is a species os mustelid which is native to North America but, thanks to our help, as been introduced into different parts of the World, among them, Southern South America.

It was brought to southern Chile (Punta Arenas and Coyhaique) between 1934 and 1936, to breed them for their fine fur, but the scheme failed and the animals were set free. Nowadays they are found from the Bío Bío River in northern Patagonia, to Tierra del Fuego in the south. They prey on the huillín and may be responsible for its dwindling numbers. They also kill coipo.

They are not very big: 0.5 to 1.6 kg (1 - 4 lb.) and measure 31 - 45 cm (1 to 1.5 ft.) with a tail of 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in.).


An Anmerican Mink

The beaver, mink, coipo and otters are the "known" mammals, those described and studied scientifically. There are others, some only mentioned in native lore, cryptids, and others known from their fossil remains. Below we will look into them.

There is however another alternative, a creature seldom mentioned, the Saapaim, a cryptid:

Saapaim. The mysterious Fuegian creature

Apart from the modern invasion of beavers, Tierra del Fuego was home to another strange creature, the saapaim. See the map above (Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego Island and, Ushuaia the site of the Anglican Mission).

We know that it was not an otter, which the Yagan natives called aiapuk. In July 1869, The Anglican Missionary, Thomas Bridges wrote about this animal noting that the Indians called it "saapaim". He described it as: "very shaggy, about as large as a sheep, has very large and powerful claws and front teeth; it lives in the densest forests on the leaves, fungus and sap of trees. It climbs with ease. I think this animal must be a sloth.".

Previously, in 1866, he had written that there were "beavers" in western Tierra del Fuego (these were not Canadian Beavers, who were introduced 80 years later, but some local native creature).

Intiguingly he later (1886) dropped the sloth-beaver likeness and considered it a fresh-water otter "called saapai by the natives. His son Lucas also said that it was not an otter, but a coipo that the Yagans called "sayapie", and which he described as a large water rat.

However reverend Bridges' original description is not that of an otter or a coipo (they do not climb trees). It is also surprising that he believed that it was some sort of sloth thirty years before the mylodon remains were discovered in the region.

The Saapaim's powerful claws are interesting because it agrees with the native Patagonian myths of clawed monsters. However, having front teeth it can’t be an edentate. Size-wise it seems too small to have been a water tiger but much larger than any known otter. Maybe it is a surviving 'large rodent' related to some megafaunal remains were found at the Mylodon Cave close to Puerto Natales.

A Water Rat?

Rodents, also known as Rodentia is an order of mammals that are characterized by having continuously growing incisors in their upper and lower jaws; these must be kept short by gnawing.

Though most rodents are small (i.e. mice or rabbits) the largest extant rodent, the South American capybara or carpincho (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), can weigh up to 80 kg (180 lb.). Carpincho is an aquatic hog-like animal, bulky and with thick bushy reddish hair.

The group of scientist led by Francisco Moreno which in the late 1800s tried to explain the iemisch, suggeste that "it is very probable that the amphibian that they [the natives] say walks on land as easily as it swims in the water, is a big rodent".

Could the water tiger be a big water rat? The remains that they found at Eberhardt Cave in Puerto Natales belonged to a rodent that was "much bigger than the carpincho […] but a bit smaller than the Megamys patagonensis".


A Capybara or Carpincho

However carpincho's don't have a long slender tail so they (or some related species) be the animal sighted in Puerto Natales. Nevertheless, a Megamys would have been a very big 'rat' indeed, because the M. patagoniensis were giants; they were four times larger than any living species of Rodentia, roughly the size of an ox.

The Megamy was related to the extant Chinchilla of the Andean mountains and, to the Desmarest's hutia or Cuban Hutia, which is endemic to Cuba (Capromys pilorides). It weighs up to 8.5 kg (18 lb.).

Looking at the photo below, it seems a close fit to the Puerto Natales sighting: short, stout, long thin tail... otter like.

cuban hutia

A Cuban Hutia (Caproimys pilorides)

A big aquatic rodent, though herbivore could be quite a threat if frightened or protecting its young. It could be possible that the Iemisch water tiger was precisely this large ‘rat-like’ aquatic creature.


Thomas Bridges (1842–1898). English Anglican minister who from 1869 until he retired in 1887 headed the mission among the Yagans, founding what is now the town of Ushuaia. He later obtained a land grant from the Argentine government close to the town, and set up his estancia (sheep ranch) at Harberton. He also wrote a very complete Yagan language dictionary.
Stephen Lucas Bridges (1874-1949). He was the third son of 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 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.


My book, Monsters of Patagonia.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 

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