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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mapinguari the Amazonian mylodon

A comment by a reader (thanks Kyle), prompted me to get together the short notes and bits of information that I gathered (and keep on gathering) when I was researching for my book Monsters of Patagonia. At that time I read about an Amazonian sloth-like creature, the Mapinguary, and althoguh I did metion the "Mapinguari" in my book I did not give it too much importance because of its Amazonian habitat which was quite far from -and very different to- the Patagonian setting of my book (which deals exclusively with the mythical beings of Patagonia). However, I did include a short reference to the Mapinguari because it may be related to the Patagonian Mylodon to which I dedicated a whole chapter in my book.

Today's brief post will be about the Mapinguari.

Sloths. Image from [8]

First of all, (ehem), as an example of my humility and modesty I will quote my own text on it:

Mapinguari also known as ‘fetid beast’ is a mythical creature said to inhabit the Amazon River basin. Though very far from Patagonia we mention it because it is believed to be a giant sloth related to the extinct mylodon, which at one time lived in Patagonia and may still be alive there (more on this in chapter 9).
Mapinguari has been described as red haired, 2.15 m [7 feet] tall, and having the claws of a giant armadillo, the face of a monkey, and a nauseating smell, like excrement or rotten meat. Extant sloths are often covered with algae that make their fur give off a foul musty odor. Perhaps they share this feature with Mapinguari and the Patagonian mylodons. [1]

In my book, I cited a scholarly reference (there is a lot on Mapinguary in forums and blogs, but not many academic papers) for those interested in reading more about it: Oren, D., (1993). Did ground sloths survive to recent times in the Amazon Region?. Goeldiana Zoologica, 19: 1-11.

David Oren is mentioned in an article published in Discover Magazine (Sept. 1999), see link below [6], in which the Mapinguary story is told and Oren's quest to find it. The outcome of his expeditions has not been published. I do not know why. But he does appear in a TV series (Nightmare of the Amazon, National Geographic Channel) [7] in 2011 discussing this mysterious being.

There is additional information and I believe that original language sources tend to be more reliable than those translated back and forth, so below are some links that may be of help to those wanting to find out more about it:

  1. Brazilian site. This Brazilian site on local folklore says that not one single chronicle dating to the colonial or Imperial periods in Brazil mention its name; and therefore they believe it is recent, and that it originated from the "Curupira" myth. See my post on the Curupira.
  2. Check out the Projeto Paleotocas, Toca News N° 30, a serious academic project which studies ancient tunnels -"toca" in Portuguese- dug by the megafaunal sloths (they are enormous). Their Journal Issue #30 looks into the possibility of extant sloths (i.e. Mapinguari).
  3. Another source with an image (also about with Brazilian folkore) See text and image on its page 35.

A very complete review of the Mapinguary can be found in George M. Eberhart, (2002) MYSTERIOUS CREATURES. A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC Clio. pp. 318-19, quoted below [4]:

Mystery Primate or Sloth of South America. Variant names: Capé-lobo (“wolf’s cape”), Juma, Mão de pilão (“pestle hand”), Mapinguary, Ow-ow, Pé de Garrafa.
Physical description: Height, about 5–6 feet when standing upright. Weighs about 500 pounds. Long, reddish fur or hair. Monkeylike face. Manelike hair along its back. Said to have another mouth in its belly. Its feet are said to turn backward. [Patagonian Monsters blog note: a common feature in several South American myths]
Behavior: Nocturnal. Avoids water. Descends from the mountains in the autumn. Cry is either a deafening roar or like a human shout. Releases a foul-smelling stench when threatened. Kills cattle by pulling out their tongues. Eats bacaba palm hearts and berries. Twists palm trees to the ground to get the palm hearts. Travels with herds of White-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari ). Said to be followed by an army of beetles. Cannot be wounded by weapons except around its navel. [Patagonian Monsters note: in this it is very similar to several sloth like creatures from Patagonia. More on this navel below]
Tracks: Either humanlike or like the bottom of a bottle stuck into the ground. Length, 11–21 inches. Stride, 3–4 feet. Feces similar to a horse’s.
Distribution: The apelike variety is more often seen in Mato Grosso and Pará States, Brazil; the slothlike variety has been reported in Amazonas and Acre States, Brazil. Possible evidence also exists in Paraguay.
Significant sightings: An adventurer named Inocêncio was with ten friends on an expedition up the Rio Uatumã, Pará State, Brazil, in 1930 when he was separated from them and got lost. As he slept in a tree for the night, he heard loud cries coming from a thickset, black figure that stood upright like a man. He shot at it several times and apparently hit it, as there was a trail of blood below his tree. In 1975, mine worker Mário Pereira de Souza claims he encountered a Mapinguari at a mining camp along the Rio Jamauchím south of Itaituba, Pará State, Brazil. He heard a scream and saw the creature coming toward him on its hind legs. It seemed unsteady and emitted a terrible stench. In the 1980s and 1990s, David Oren conducted fifty interviews with Brazilian Indians, rubber planters, and miners who know about the animal. He interviewed seven hunters who claim to have shot specimens. One group of Kanamarí Indians living in the Rio Juruá Valley claimed to have raised two infant Mapinguaris on bananas and milk; after one or two years, the creatures’ stench became unbearable, and they were released. In the late 1990s, Dutch zoologist Marc van Roosmalen heard that people in one village along the Rio Purus, Amazonas State, Brazil, moved their homes across the river after Mapinguari tracks were found nearby.
Possible explanations:
(1) Unknown ape similar to De Loys ’s Ape or the Didi.
(2) A surviving man-sized Patagonian cavedwelling sloth of the genus Mylodon. All subfossil fur samples are red. Mylodon walked with its clawed feet curved toward the center of its body. Its dermal ossicles (except around the navel) might protect it from gunfire. The round tracks might be the impression of the heavy tail tip as the creature stands upright. David Oren suggests that the “second mouth” is a specialized, scent-secreting gland.
Sources: Paulo Saldanha Sobrinho, Fatos, histórias e lendas do Guaporé, as quoted at; Frank W. Lane, Nature Parade (London: Jarrolds, 1955), p. 241; Luís da Câmara Cascudo, Dicionário do folclore Brasileiro (Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Nacional do Livro, 1962), vol. 2, p. 456; David C. Oren, “Did Ground Sloths Survive to Recent Times in the Amazon Region?” Goeldiana Zoologia, no. 19 (August 20, 1993): 1–11; “The Mother of All Sloths,” Fortean Times, no. 77 (October–November 1994): 17; Laurie Goering, “Amazon Primatologist Shakes Family Tree for New Monkeys,” Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1999; Marguerite Holloway, “Beasts in the Mists,” Discover 20 (September 1999): 57–65. [4]

Regarding the vulnerable navel, it is a feature shared by the Ellengassen, a mythical creature of Patagonia (probably an extant glyptodon) was described as follows (Source my book): "The creature was 'covered with an enormous shell, very thick, similar to that of the current armadillos, probably a glyptodon […] according to some, it had a human face and according to others it was a man of gigantic size, with its back covered with a shield, so it could only be wounded on its belly'". The quote I cite is from: Moreno, E., (1979). Reminiscencias de Francisco P. Moreno. B. Aires: Eudeba. pp. 105 and 129.

The word "Mapinguari", is actually the contraction of several Tupi-Guarani words: "mbaé-pi-guari" and means: a thing that has a bent or crooked foot - paw. If the animal was a pan-Amazonian being, it would have its own particular names in the different native languages, and it does: The Karitiana natives, of the Amazon, call the Mapinguari "owojo", "kida so'emo" or "kida harara" the word "kida" means ugly creatures and is used to describe fierce mammals (jaguars), insects and reptiles and also, the monstruous Mapinguari and the devil. The "so'emo" part means: "black face", so Mapinguary = "black faced beast" [2][3]. See the location of the territory where Mapinguary lives [3].

Megafaunal sloths became extinct in America between 10 and 4.4 kya. [5]. It is possible that some have managed to survive in the Amazon until recent times and originated these myths among the natives. As a final piece of information, see my post on Patagonian Tapirs, where I quote Capt. Fitz-Roy on a "Tapir with talons", from the southern jungles in Paraguay and Brazil, perhaps another reference to the "Mapinguari".


[1] Austin Whittall (2012), Monsters of Patagonia, Zagier & Urruty
[2] Felipe Ferreira Vander Velden, (2009). Sobre caes e indios: domesticidade, classificacao zoologica e relacao humano-animal entre os Karitiana. Avá n.15 Posadas dez. 2009.
[3] Ibid. (2010). De volta para o passado: territorializacao e 'contraterritorializacao’ na historia karitiana. Soc. e Cult., Goiania, v. 13, n. 1, p. 55-65, jan./jun. 2010
[4] George M. Eberhart, (2002) MYSTERIOUS CREATURES. A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC Clio. pp. 318-19
[5] David W. Steadman, (2005). Asynchronous extinction of late Quaternary sloths on continents and islands. PNAS, August 16, 2005, vol. 102, no. 33, 11763–11768
[6] Marguerite Holloway, Discover Magazine, (1999). Beasts in the Mist. Sept. 01, 1999
[7] Nightmare of the Amazon, Nat. Geo. Channel. 2011.
[8] Darren Naish, The anatomy of sloths. Tetrapod zoology. August 30, 2012

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

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