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, December 30, 2009

Lake Nahuel Huapi - a video and a map


This will be my last post for 2009. A long year is coming to an end. Personally it has been a very positive year in many nice ways. Lets all hope that 2010 is even better for all of us.

Happy New Year!

Video showing Lake Nahuel Huapi - Nahuelito's home

Below is a video I uploaded on YouTube. I filmed it last Sunday (27.10.09) close to Villa Campanario, Peninsula San Pedro, San Carlos de Bariloche. It shows Lake Nahuel Huapi.

I filmed the video facing northwards, the left side of the image is the west. In the middle is Victoria Island, (see my post on Patagonian bears). To the right (east) of it, is Peninsula Huemul. Behind the Peninsula is the lake's Huemul Fjord where Garrett saw Nahuelito in 1910. At the extreme right is the tip of San Pedro Peninsula and (out of the image) about 200 m (650 ft.) behind me is "Campanario Fjord", where Nahuelito was also sighted.

In the audio, the wind can be heard. The relentless Patagonian wind. It is midday on a slightly cloudy and very cold Summer day. Due to the season, the lake's level is quite high (see how the bushes on the rocky beach are awash in the waves). As summer advances, the water level drops leaving a beach about 15 m (45 ft.) wide.

Nahuel Huapi seen from Villa Campanario, Bariloche.
Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

The area covered by the video is shown below (thank you Google Earth!); you can also see it in the following Nahuel Huapi Map.

Area covered by the video.
Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall. Based on image by Google Earth.

See you again in 2010

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Lake Quillen - Lake of the Week and its "cuero uñudo"


lake of the week

Lake Quillen (39º25'S, 71º19'W) is located at 975 m (3,200 ft.) above sea level deep inside the Andes in the province of Neuquén, Argentina.

It is, like al Patagonian lakes, cold and oligotrophic (very transparent and low in nutrients and cloprophyll), so the chances that it can be home to some carnivorous animal are small. See my post on the Sustainability issue.

Lake Quillen and Lanin volcano
Lake Quillen, with Lanin volcano behind. From [1].

With a surface area of 24 km2 (9,2 sq.mi.) it is quite small; it is also relatively shallow with a maximum depth of 155 m (508 ft.). It is on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Continental water divide, and it drains towards the east through the Quillen River into the Aluminé River, a tributary of the Limay - Rio Negro basin.

Quillen, which in the language of the Mapuche natives (Mapudungun) means strawberry, is protected by the Lanín National Park.

Gregorio Alvarez wrote about a "cuero uñudo or "hide with claws" seen at the River, at Quila Chanquil (Mapudungun for "where three rivers meet") by a local named Eusebio Cisternas.

Cisternas also saw the creature by the Quillen River, shortly after it leaves Lake Quillen. It was slightly smaller than the hide of a yearling calf and was holding on to a tree trunk by the river.

This clawed creature, a kind of manta ray with claws along its body, is described in detail in our post on "cuero".

It drags itself out of the water and lies flat on the ground, when someone walks over it, it quickly wraps around its victim and captures it with its claws. Tightly rolled up, it rolls back into the river or lake where it eats its prey safely inside its lair.

The following map shows the area where the cuero was seen. The upper red dot shows Quila Chanquil, and the lower one, Lake and River Quillen.
To the south of the map, by San Martín de los Andes is Lake Lacar, home to a "lake bull" and above it Lake Huechulafquen, home to another lake creature, Huechulito.

map Alumine
Map of Central Neuquen - Cuero uñudo area. Adapted from [4].
Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall


[1] Image from:
[2] Sistema Nacional de Información Hídrica / Información General. Lago Quillen
[3] Alvarez, Gregorio, (1981). El tronco de oro: folklore del Neuquén. Neuquén: Ed. Siringa Libros. pp. 116+
[4] Map original source: Instituto Geográfico Nacional

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Deer, boars and Lake Monsters


An inexperienced observer on a lake cruise at Lake Nahuel Huapi, Argentina, only expects to see beautiful mountains, forests and the deep blue lake. Some gulls will fly beside the ship to eat the biscuits that the crew or passengers feed them with. But beyond the wind and the froth covered waves on the lake, the average tourist does not expect to see anything unusual.

But, if some infrequent circumstances come together, then the tourist will see something unexpected, and will conclude that it is lake monster.

On a calm day (not very frequent at most Patagonian lakes - the persistent westerly winds tend to stir up waves) when the lake is like a mirror, a swimming animal will surely attract our tourist's attention.

If it is a bobbing gull or a swimming huala, it will not be a surprising event; but if the animal is a wild boar or a deer swimming in the lake, then our tourist will be startled (most tourists ignore the fact that there are boars and deer in the Andean forests at Nahuel Huapi National Park).

Another animal, the guanaco, is according to Charles Darwin a good swimmer: The guanacos readily take to the water: several times at Port Valdes they were seen swimming from island to island.[3] Guanaco are found all over Patagonia (though they are rarely seen at Lake Nahuel Huapi, they are abundant in most of the southern lakes).

So, what would one of these animals look like?

From my post on swimming deer is the following photograph of a local Huemul deer (at Nahuel Huapi these are extermely rare, but on the other hand European Red deer are quite common):

swimming Huemul
Huemul nadando en el lago Futalaufquen (Huemul swimming in Lake Futalafquen). Photo: Daniel Marchetti. From [1].

Yesterday I mentioned that wild boars also swim across the lake between Huemul Peninsula and Victoria Island.

Below is a photograph of a swimming boar (not in Patagonia though. The image is just to give you an idea of what a swimming boar looks like).

Swimming boar
Swimming wild boar. From [2].

If you saw a boar or a deer in the middle of a lake and did not know that these animals lived there, what would you think you saw?

A lake monster?


[1] Parks Watch. © 2004 ParksWatch. Parque Nacional los Alerces
[2] Hoplapla. Sanglier sauvage a la nage - wild boar swimming
[3] David Starr Jordan (Ed., (1902). A Book of Natural History Young Folks' Library. Boston: Hall &: Locke. Vol.XIV. pp 231

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

The Patagonian Plesiosaur – Photographs.


Some more photographs taken at the Museo de la Patagonia “Francisco P. Moreno” during my trip to Bariloche over the Christmas long weekend.

They are both related to the 1922 Plesiosaur Expedition.

The first photograph shows the “hut” that the Sheffield family lived in. I guess (as the image’s caption says nothing), that Juana Sheffield is the girl sitting on the left of her mother with her smaller brother (and sister?) in front of her. To the right, Mr. Frey is leaning against the hut (wearing a wide brimmed hat).

Sheffield home at Epuyen
Sheffield home at el Hoyo de Epuyen. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

The second photograph shows the 1922 Expeditonary team sent to hunt the Plesiosaur (Previously I have posted some photographs of some of those involved in the Plesiosaur expedition).

They are, from left to right: Alberto Merkle (Taxidermist), Emilio Frey (Leader of the Expedition), Clemente Onelli (Zoo Director), Santiago Andueza (Expert shooter) and José Cinaghi (Zoo Administrator).

1922 Plesiosaur expedition members
The Plesiosaur Expedition members. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Plesiosaur at Lake Epuyen. The letter


At Bariloche, last Saturday, I had the chance to photograph several documents on exhibit at the Museo de la Patagonia “Francisco P. Moreno” such as a facsimil of the letter written by Mr. Martin Sheffield to Clemente Onelli regarding the “Plesiosaur” at Lake Epuyen (see my posts on this lake cryptid).

The following image shows the original letter:

Sheffield's "Plesiosaur" letter to Onelli. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

And this is its Spanish translation; click on the link for an English version of the letter, click Here.

Carta de Sheffield a Onelli
Sheffield "letter" to Onelli. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Calchona "stamp"


A new stamp!

Today, I introduce the “Calchona" stamp. You can read more about this strange “she – dog”, a woman morphed into a hairy being in my post on Calchona.

Inspired on Ashton’s Mimicke dog[1]

Calchona stamp
Calchona "stamp". Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall


[1] Ashton. Op. Cit. pp.88.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

“Lobo-Toro” or wolf-bull


Continuing with the feral (wild) cattle entry posted earlier today, we will now look into another monster, the wolf-bull.

The “Chupeitoro” or “Lobo-Toro” (some write it Lofo-Toro or Quenpeitoro) myth of the Mapuche is a patent example of the assimilation of wild cattle into the native’s lore.

The Mapuche used the Spanish words “lobo” and “toro” (wolf and bull respectively), to name it.

It was bull-sized and had long hair very similar to that of the feral (wild) cows found at Lake Argentino (we mentioned them in our last post on Wild Cattle)- it roared and howled like a wolf yet it was herbivore. It could be found all over Patagonia.[1]

Perhaps the large European dogs or a now extinct local Patagonian wolf may have inspired the wolf part of this weird hybrid (see our post on Patagonian wolves).

Regarding its bovine part, the myth may have included wild European cattle or taken a much older tradition, the one that refers to a mysterious horned being in southern Patagonia, on which I have posted separately.

Anyhow, the “wolf bull” amalgamates the worst features of both beings.

lobo toro
Lobo Toro (wolf bull). Online source, unknown author.

Mrs. Juana Puel, wife of Mapuche Chief Vicente Maripán of the Gramajo reservation at Barda Negra (39°11’ S, 70°05’ W) recalled a “Quenpeitoro” describing it as “a big bull that kills tigers and lions: well-known for its spear-like horns”.[1]

Lobo-toro is incorrectly mistaken in some texts for Elengassen (see my post on Elengassen); but they are very different beings, one, Elengassen, a stone throwing monstrous cave dweller, the other a wolf-like bull.


[1] Rothschild, D., et al., (1996). Protegiendo lo nuestro: Pueblos indígenas y biodiversidad. Quito: SAIIC. pp. 43-44.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bears at Nahuel Huapi


Argentine millionaire and dandy, scion of the Anchorena dynasty, Aaron de Anchorena (1877-1965) is a very charming character.

I stumbled across him while reading a very interesting book [1] on the toponomy of Nahuel Huapi National Park (toponomy is the explanation of the origin of place names; did you ever wonder why a river or a hill was named in a certain way?, toponomy tells you the story behind the name).

Getting back to Anchorena, he was an aviator (in the early days of aviation) and an enthusiastic big game hunter. But above all, he was very rich.

He organized an expedition to Patagonia in 1901/02 to Chubut, Rio Negro and Neuquén, during which he hunted sea wolves, guanaco, wild cattle and wild goats.

Anchorena 1901-1902 expedition
Anchorena 1901-1902 hunting expedition. From [2]

He visited the region when it was still a wild and mostly unknown area. He immediately fell in love with it, and after visiting Victoria Island on Lake Nahuel Huapi where he camped and hunted wild goats, he met Argentine explorer and scientist Francisco Pascasio Moreno and enlisted his help to secure ownership of the island.

By law, islands in Argentina belong to the Federal Government, so Anchorena was unable to own Victoria Island, yet he managed to have a law passed through Congress (Ley 5263) in 1907 which leased it to him for 99 years.

He soon built a shipyard, planted crops, introduced exotic plants, trees and animals (so that he and his friends could hunt them). Subjected to relentless criticism, he quit his lease in 1911 and purchased a plot of land close by, at Huemul Peninsula.

The interesting part of this story is that he brought into what is now a National Park, animals from other parts of the world and set them free on the island; these were red and axis deer, wild boar, pheasants and... brace yourself, this is really something unbelievable, he introduced brown bears (Ursus arctos) which he had purchased in Europe (this is something that could only be done in those days - imagine the ecological havoc that such an aciton could cause).

These are very large bears found exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere (from Canada, Alaska to Siberia, and Europe). They are big and mean. They can weigh up to 680 kg (1,500 lb).

All the references that I have found state that they apparently did not adapt to the island and died.[1]

I am certain that the first pair died during the trip, [3] yet he brought a second pair from Germany and another from Scotland. Did these die or did they survive? Did the keep to the island or escape swimming across the lake? Would Mr. Anchorena choose to keep quiet about his bears to abate criticism about his lavish life style? Did he take them with him to the mainland when he moved to his new ranch at Huemul Peninsula.

He also introduced European wild boars in his ranch at Huemul, which later (1999) swam across the Lake Nahuel Huapi returning to Victoria Island. They have successfully colonized it and are being eradicated.[5]

Not only are boars swimmers, brown bears are also very good swimmers, they enjoy the water (see the following photograph):

Swimming Brown Bear. From [4].

Nowadays there are no bears living in the cold or temperate areas of South America. The southernmost bears' habitat is in the tropical areas of Bolivia (Andean or spectacled bear). So Northern Hemisphere bears in Patagonia would occupy a unique niche without competitors. The question is, could they have survived outside of the island?

Perhaps they could have adapted fairly well to Nahuel Huapi's environment.

It has a similar climate to their Boreal home. Though food is not abundant, they may have found some exploitable resources.

Fish, even though at that time salmonids (trout) were just being introduced into the lakes so they would not be found in large numbers, the bears could have eaten them.

Insects and berries (not too abundant either), small rodents and marsupials could have been exploited as food.

I will keep on searching for information on this intriguing subject, which could explain unexpected bulky lake creatures seen later (i.e. Garret in 1910 who reported a big water creature close to the island at Paso Coihue at the base of Huemul Peninsula- read more in our post on Nahuelito).

New information - Jan 25th, 2010

I have posted on Patagonian Bears not the imported exotic ones, but on the possible existence of native bears in Patgonia.

[1] Biedma, Juan Martín. (2004). Toponimia del Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. Bariloche:Ed. Caleuche.
[2] Anchorena, Aaron de, (1902). Descripción Geográfica de la Patagonia y valles andinos. B. Aires: Cia. Sudamericana de Billetes de Banco.
[3] Juarez, F., Diario Rio Negro. Historias Patagónicas: Cacerías de Anchorena en su isla y norte rionegrino. 25.02.2007.
[4] Brown Bears. Katmai National Park, Alaska. By Photographs by: Charles W. Melton.
[5] de la Vega Santiago, Invasión en Patagonia.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Feral cattle – wild bulls & lake creatures


weird but real animals

Cows and horses[*] were unknown to the native Americans until the Spaniards introduced them during the conquest; they had never been seen by the natives before and the fear or surprise that these beasts caused could have deeply impressed them, inspiring the many myths involving bulls and magic Calimayo horses.

[*] See our post on the possible survival of supposedly extinct pre-Hispanic horses.

Cattle frequently ran wild because they escaped from their enclosures and returned to their natural untamed ways in the Andean forests. Their mythical charm may have been heightened by their ferocious character: wild cattle are bad, mean and dangerous beasts.

Patagonian Creole Bull. "The father of the Herd". From [2].

English explorer Musters (in 1869/70) had a nasty experience in what is now Chubut province, at the fork where Huemul and Carrenleufu rivers merge. He took part of an ill fated wild cattle hunt in which a bull killed a horse, dismounted its Indian rider and trampled Musters breaking two of his ribs.[1]

The wide range of “bull-like” creatures reported at several Patagonian lakes (see our posts on these Lake Bulls, could actually be a real bull or cow inside a lake.

Feral (i.e. wild) cattle have often been seen in Patagonia close to the water, frolicking in the lakes; Prichard at Lake Argentino (1901) saw an “old yellow bull knee-deep in the lake, drinking”.[2]

How did these wild European cows get into Patagonia?

There were no cows in America when the Spaniards arrived, all were brought from Spain. The first cattle were introduced into Argentina in 1549, they reached the Pampas in the 1580s and found a very favorable habitat for expansion. They moved southwards towards Patagonia where natural selection and tough environmental constraints shaped them into a new variety, the “Creole” breed.

Cattle was taken into Patagonia in 1781 to the town of Floridablanca, at San Julián (49°18’ S, 67°42’ W), which was soon abandoned.[3]

Cattle was also taken to a Spanish settlement at Valdés Peninsula (42°28’ S, 64°28’ W), from where they moved westwards towards the Andes after the Tehuelche and Mapuche raided and destroyed the colony in 1810.[4]

The Spanish towns in Chile’s Arauco region, razed in the first wars with the Mapuche (1598-1641) and the abandoned Jesuit Missions in northern Patagonia also had cattle which ran wild in the Andean forests.

All of these stray cows and bulls were the founders of the Patagonian breed of Creole cattle that still survives in some isolated spots of Patagonia in a wild state.

Amazing wild Patagonian cows

One of these spots where wild Creole cows can be found is the “Los Glaciares” National Park in southwestern Santa Cruz Province where they live in the mountains between Lake Argentino’s fjords and the Southern Continental Ice Field.

This population of wild cows is unique because it has adapted extremely well to the tough cold climate by the glaciers where it freezes to below -10°C in winter (14°F). They are the only group of cows in the world with this ability to resist the cold.

However, being exotic animals, Creole cows harm the environment; they trample and eat the saplings and young sprouts of the local trees and feed on the lichens that grow on the rocks. They also compete against the huemul and guanaco displacing them in their foraging activities.

They have been studied by a team from an Argentine University (Universidad Nacional de Lomas de Zamora) who noted that in less than a century, the short tough hair of the Argentine Creole cattle evolved into a thick fur that can measure up to 10 cm (4 in.) in winter, shortening to 2 cm (0.8 in.) in summer.[5] This shaggy coat gives them a yak-like look and protects them from the cold.

Patagonian Creole Bull. Online source unknown

Prichard, who hunted wild cows in this same area, said that the “As a rule, wild cattle avoid open ground” seeking the protection of the woods.[4] It is in the forests that they can be formidable and dangerous opponents; they are fearsome creatures whose long horns are similar to those of the ancient European uro.

Bagual cattle

Though they were hunted to extinction in Chile they still exist in northern Chilean Patagonian folk tales; at Osorno, there is a Laguna del Toro (Bull’s Lagoon), with the legend of a “bagual” bull that threw himself into its waters preferring suicide to death at the hands of its hunters.

Bagual is a word used in Chile and Argentina referring to wild Patagonian cows and horses. They were also known as “animales lobos” or “wolf animals”, an intriguing name as, “officially” there are no wolves in the whole of South America; however, at our post on Patagonian wolves, there may have been wolves in Patagonia. And these could have inspired the name. Alternatively, there is a strange wolfish bovine, the lobo-toro or wolf-bull, which we will mention in our next post.


[1] Musters, G. Op. Cit. pp. 146 - 148.
[2] Prichard, H. Op. Cit. pp. 239. Plate facing pp. 230.
[3] Martínez, R., et al., (2000). El ganado bovino criollo en Argentina. Archivos de zootecnia v. 49, N° 187:354. 09-2000.
[4] Prichard, H. Op. Cit. pp. 233 and 244.
[5] Bavera, G., (2006). El pelaje del bovino y su importancia en la producción. Chap VII:8.

Check out Prichard's book online! our quotes can be found on pp. 229 and 234:

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Back from Patagonia


I have just returned from a short Christmas break in Bariloche. It was a wonderful long weekend in Patagonia. Summer has just begun and flowers are blooming all over the place. The forest fresh and fragrant. Lake Nahuel Huapi with its fantastic deep blue color and white capped waves. Windy, sunny, cloudy, warm during the day, cold at night the typical Patagonian weather!

Sadly I did not have the chance to see anything strange in the lake (i.e. Nahuelito) or any weird beings in the woods, however I had the chance to go to Bariloche’s Museum (Museo de la Patagonia “Francisco P. Moreno”) where I took some good photographs which will be included in future posts.

I also bought some nice books on my favorite subject (Patagonia) and one of them has given me some interesting information on exotic creatures introduced into the Nahuel Huapi area in the early 1900s which I did not know about and may be of interest to those seeking an answer to the Nahuelito cryptid mystery.

Just a quick escape with my wife from the hectic megalopolis of Buenos Aires (with its hot and sticky December days of over 30°C – 86°F).

The good news is that my book on Patagonian cryptids is finished. Yes, I formally concluded writing, editing, checking, updating and fidgeting with it. It is finished.

Now I will embark on the process of printing it.

By the way, its title is:

Patagonian Monsters. A guide to its Giants, Dwarves, Lake Creatures and Mythical Beasts

I will keep you updated on this undertaking, which, I imagine will not be an easy task.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Patagonia - environment and cryptids


Some time ago I posted on cryptozoology (belief in monsters) and wrote about Patagonia's peculiar situation.

On one hand it is a very large surface of land with a small human population, it has a very large quantity of protected areas and National Parks in both Argentina and Chile, yet, it has also has...

suffered some great ecological changes since the early 1900s that may have altered the habitat of many cryptids that appear in the natives’ myths, making it less likely to find these creatures.
  a. Sheep farming led to overgrazing on the steppe and altered the land available to other grazers.
  b.It also led to the over-hunting of puma and condor (considered predators of sheep and lambs).
  c. Cattle and horses introduced by the natives in the 1700s altered the forest environment and pushed the local deer (Huemul and Pudu Pudu) into less favorable environments.
  d. Hunting by “sportsmen” and farmers have placed both local deer species close to extinction.
  e. Salmon and trout introduced into lakes and rivers have preyed on the local relict fish species reducing the Patagonian otter’s food source. Both endemic fish and otter are endangered.
  f. Beavers and European Red deer introduced into Patagonia have caused havoc in their habitat.
  g. Climate change and global warming affect the formation of glaciers and the downstream fertility due to lack of water.

I have already mentioned the impact caused by salmon and trout (sustainability of monsters). Today I will comment about the severe impact that sheep farming has had on the Guanaco.

Guancaco (Lama guanicoe) is a native variety of camelid - a mammal related to the Asian camels. It is about 1 - 1,2 m (3 to 4 ft.) tall and weighs about 90 kg (200 lb.). It is related to the other South American camelids (alpaca, vicuña and llama). Nowadays there are only some 546 thousand guanaco in Patagonia (1997 data), while at the beginning of the XXth century there were seven million of them. At that time sheep farmers started to kill them arguing that they competed with their flocks for food. Current estimates indicate that before sheep were introduced into Patagonia, there may have been up to 22 million guanaco living on the steppe.[1]

From a peak of 22 million sheep in 1952, the size of the flocks has dropped constantly. Currently there are 10 million sheep in Patagonia, and overgrazing has seriously damaged the environment causing desertification on 30% of the steppe's surface. And this area grows at 3% per year. Natural causes such as Hudson Volcano's 1990 eruption worsen the impact on the steppe's vegetation.[2]

Nevertheless, there are some who are working to revert this serious problem.
Such as a NGO, Conservación Patagónica. (English site).

I am leaving for Patagonia now for a short vacation, I will resume my posts after Christmas.


[1] De la Vega, S., Las Leyes de la Estepa.
[2] Giraudo, C., Villagra, E., Villar,m., and Easdale,M.,  Los sistemas de producción ovina en la región Patagonia.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2010


From [1]

Sasons Greetings!

My best wishes for the new year.


[1] Image credits: © Copyright 2005-2007. Sea Serpent

Legal stuff: Regarding Links to other sites, Non endorsement, Brand Names and trademarks and Other products and vendors, such as 1421 The year China discovered the World, please see our Terms and Conditions.
Regarding Copyright of third parties, please see my FAIR USE NOTICE (items 13.a and 13.b) at our Terms and Conditions page. Thank you.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Hairy Snake


In a previous post on we mentioned hairy snakes, today I will give more details.

calchá filu, the hairy snake

Argentine military Commander Federico Barbará (1828-1893) who lived many years in the mid 1800s on Patagonia’s northern frontier, fighting against the Puelche natives (a Mapuche/Tehuelche group), recorded their vocabulary and wrote a Puelche-Spanish dictionary. In it he included the name of a lake which the Puelche called “Calchá-filu”. The Spanish meaning of these two words is “hairy snake”,[1]

Gradually, during the XVIIth century the northernmost Tehuelche natives expanded out of Patagonia, across the Negro and Colorado rivers and into the Pampas where they replaced the original natives of Buenos Aires province and became known as the “Pampas” or “Puelche” (the latter, in Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche, means “Eastern people”).

The Puelche quickly came into contact with the Mapuche tribes living on the eastern foot-hills of the Andes in what is now Neuquén, and they became “Araucanized”, adopting their very convenient language (Mapudungun). The Puelche and Mapuche interacted through war, trade and cattle rustling until they were overtaken by “Western” civilization in the wars of 1879-1883 during which the Argentine government took control of eastern Patagonia (a similar process happened in Chile at the same time).

This explains why the Puelche used a Mapuche word to name a lake in their territory. Perhaps, just like the Mapuche, they also believed that “hairy snakes” were evil creatures.

Mapuche hairy snake

Mapuche oral tradition also mentions these creatures. “Kalfulemu, El Mapuche sin Sombra” was a story told by Abel Kuruuinca to Argentine folklorist Mrs. Bertha Koessler in 1962. In this tale, a native details his experience at the cave of the “salamanqueros” or witches cave, where orgies and debauchery take place.

In the tale, the native says that they lay him down and a “hairy snake coiled up on my chest and did not want to be removed” it kept an eye on him so that he did not escape.[2]

In another story about “Renpulli, la salamanca del lago Lacar”, Kuruuinca gave more details:

“Then a snake, fat as an arm and full of scales and hairy, pounced on his chest trying to suffocate him […] the creature coiled around his neck and hissed and put its toung in his mouth…”[2]

Chiñi filu

The hairy snake is also named “chiñi filu”, which is the “hairy snake of the seas, lakes and rivers”.[3]

Interestingly, this word chiñi is the common Chilean name for skunk (Mephitis chilensis), also spelt "chingue".

chingue stamp

Chingue, stamp. Chile (1948). From [4].

We find the same word, (chiñi) in Quechua language. Quechua is a Native American language which is spoken in the Andean region of South America (Perú, Bolivia, Northern Argentina, Chile and Ecuador). It may have found its way into the Mapuche myths because the Inca invaded their territory in the mid 1400s.

The meaning of chiñi in Quechua is “Bat”.

So wether a bat-snake or a skunk-snake, we have a hairy reptile myth spanning the Puelche and Mapuche cultures. What can it be?

Note: there is a widespread myth in Chile about a Flying snake it is described mostly like a snake - bird, with or without feathers, but sometimes it is described as having tough bristles running along its back and no feathers. Is this Piwichén another representation of the hairy snake? or is the flying snake just a myth about strange birds?

Are hairy snakes real?

A hairy reptile is not as improbable as one may expect.

Hair is made from a protein called keratin. Researches checked reptiles and birds trying to see if they had genes that code this protein. And they found that these genes “are not restricted to mammals” because they also code proteins used to form the skin and claws. These keratin genes appeared in a common ancestor to amniotes about 300 million years ago. Amniotes are four legged vertebrates that include mammals, birds and reptiles.[5]

However only mammals have hair follicles and are able to grow hairs. If a reptile acquired that capability, it would be a hairy reptile. But that would require complex mutations. It is quite improbable.

So, my best guess is that the Patagonian hairy snake is not a reptile but a long, slim, svelte mammal such as a Huillín (Lontra provocax), the Patagonian otter. The following image shows one swimming; notice its snake-like appearance which is enhanced by its long tail.

Huillín (Patagonian River Otter). By Fabián Bugnest. From [6].

Endangered Patagonian otters

Huillín is an endangered species and both Argentina and Chile are taking action to prevent its extinction.

For a summary on the current status of Argentine huillín, click Here (in English).

For similar information regarding Chile, click Here, it is the blog (in Spanish) of CODEFF (Comite Nacional Pro Defensa de la Fauna y Flora), a Chilean NGO who is fighting to save the Patagonian Otter.

Lakes and Rivers are not only water, lets save the Huillín (Logo). © CODEFF.


[1] Barbará, F., (2000). Manual de la lengua pampa. B. Aires: Emece. pp. 124.
[3] Fernández, C.,(1995). Cuentan Los Mapuches. B. Aires: Ed.Nuevo Siglo. pp. 53 and 38
[3] Bárcena, R., [Ed]. (1990). Culturas indígenas de la Patagonia. Turner. pp.236
[4] Chilean stamp (1948) - Sociedad Filatélica de Chile.
[5] The Evolutionary Origin of Mammals’ Hair Is Found in Reptile Claws. Discover.
[6] Huillín (Patagonian River Otter). SIB.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Monday, December 21, 2009

First Map of Patagonia


Pigafetta map

First map of the Strait of Magellan & Patagonia. Pigafetta (1520). From [1]

Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler besides writing about the first encounter between the Giant Patagons and the Spanish fleet, also drew the first map of the Strait of Magellan, and of Patagonia.

It is quite unique because unlike modern map conventions, in this map, south is at the top of the map and north at the bottom.

Well known places figure on the map (from top to bottom) Patagonian Strait (now Strait of Magellan), Virgenes Cape, Port San Julián, Regioni Patagonia or Patagonia Region and Solís River (now River Plate).


Pigafetta, A., Primo viaggio intorno al globo terracqueo ; ossia, Ragguaglio della navigazione alle Indie Orientali per la via d'Occidente / fatta dal cavaliere Antonio Pigafetta ; corredato di note da Carlo Amoretti. Milano : Stamperia di Giuseppe Galeazzi, [1800]. lii, pp. 36.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Lake Viedma - lake of the week


lake of the week

Calimayo is a word of Quechua origin meaning “river creature” (“cali”, man and “mayuj”, river), Calimayos are mentioned in native myths as lake creatures from Bolivia and northern Argentina to Patagonia.

They are supernatural horses, lake horses. I have mentioned them (and posted an image) in a previous post on Lake Caviahue.

In Southern Santa Cruz province, Argentina is Lake Viedma (49°41’ S, 72°00’ W). It is a large -1.088 km2 (420 sq.mi)- body of water, slightly smaller than Lake Argentino into which it flows, and from there into the Atlantic via Santa Cruz River.

It is located next to the Southern Ice Field and Viedma Glacier flows into the lake.

It was by the tip of this lake according to an article of Buenos Aires daily La Razón (1957) that a geographer named Perry Cook had a strange experience:

I heard a long and vigorous galloping close by. They were hoofs that strode on the fine sand of the water’s edge […] I looked out and had the strange impression that it was a black horse of enormous height, it tallness was abnormal […] he sharply twisted his way and ran into the waters, disappearing in the darkness.[2]

Lake Viedma

Lake Viedma. From [1].

In the photograph above, Mount FitzRoy (3,405 m - 11,164 ft.) can be seen in the background on the western tip of the lake. At the foot of this imposing mountain is the small village of El Chaltén, "Trekking capital of Argentina".
The photograph was taken from the southern side of the lake, in the steppe. In the foreground are some buildings of a Patagonian "estancia" (ranch).


[1] El Guanaco Volador. 2005 Alla por el Viedma Patagonia. 25.09.08.
[2] Nuñez, O., L., (2006). Extrañas Marcas en el Cuerpo de una Mujer. Online. Citing: La Razón, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 17.05.1957.

Further reading:

More photographs of Lake Viedma. Views of the Viedma Glacier.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Pre-Hispanic horses - More


Continuing with our previous post on the possibility that Native American horses survived extinction and later mated with European horses in Patagonia, I have some additional information on this subject.

English Admiral Byron, in 1771 wrote about the gigantic Patagons he had met while sailing along the Patagonian coast. He noted that “so much were their horses disproportioned, that all the people that were with me in the boats, […] swore that they were all mounted upon deer”.[1]

Interestingly, a Spanish Government report written in 1601 about the natives at the Strait of Magellan, it stated that “the Indians ride on horses. But not horses, they appear to be donkeys”.[2]

Donkeys - or Hippidion? at the Strait of Magellan. From [2].

Hippidion horses which were sturdier than modern horses, had shorter and wider legs and resembled donkeys.

I have researched on this subject and found more information on Patagonian donkeys or onagers.


[1] FitzRoy, R., Op. Cit. Appendix v. ii. pp. 109-110. Citing: Extract from Pennant's Literary Life, pp. 47 – 69.
[2] Gandía, E., (1929). Historia Crítica de los Mitos de la Conquista Americana. B.Aires: J. Roldán. pp.265.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Friday, December 18, 2009

Patagonia. Extant pre-Hispanic horses?


hippidion saldiasi
Hippidion saldiasi. Online

Horses originated in America several million years ago, from there they spread into the Old World where they multiplied and survived. Their American relatives became extinct. Horses were re-introduced into America by the Europeans after 1492. That is the official story.

There may be another one:

Native American Horses

There were two kinds of horses living in Patagonia before the arrival of Europeans; and they are believed to have become extinct at the end of the last Ice Age some 8,000 years ago.

One of them, the primitive Hippidion which appeared about 2.5 million years ago (Ma.), reached Tierra del Fuego; the other, a modern Equus which appeared only about 1 Ma, extended its range to northern Patagonia.

Both co-existed with men, who hunted them and their extinction is quite a mystery since the virtually identical Old World horses introduced by the Spaniards flourished in the same environment.

This has led some authors believe that not all of these horses died, and that some managed to survive until the arrival of the European horses “influenc[ing] the morphology and other sui generis features of the current Creole horse” by interbreeding with them.[1]

In other words, they survived and mated with their European relatives.

Circumstantial evidence

Notice the spotted red and white appearance of the Hippidion's coat (in all the depictions that I found, it is represented with a spotted coat).

French engineer Narcise Parchappe reported in 1828 that “it is notable that nearly all the Indian’s horses are picazos (red and white) and stained in a strange manner; while this variety is very rare among the Creoles”. As these colors were also rarely found in the large herds of wild horses; he thought that the natives selectively bred these strange colored animals.[2]

Actually, these horses were not “picazos” but “overos” of a very special kind. Picazos known as piebald, have a black base coat, while the overos have a solid color with splashes of white.

The native’s variety of overo is known as “overo manchado”; in Spanish, manchado means stained in the sense of something “splattered on”. This color has only cropped up in Argentina in horses from different breeds. The pattern is also atypical and is not related to the spots of any other horse breeds (like appaloosa, sabino or chubari).[3]

Thoroughbred Manchado Overo Horse (but not Criollo). From [3]

Furthermore, it appears as a sudden mutation in animal breeds that don’t have spots such as Criollo, Hackney, Arab and Thoroughbred,[4] this would imply that they could not be selectively bred by the natives.

The pre-Hispanic horses could have introduced this peculiar coat color into the genetic pool of the horses introduced by the Spaniards; and it now appears randomly.

Regarding southern Patagonian horses, Musters wrote during his 1870 journey through Patagonia that “near Port San Julian […] there are numbers of wild ponies, about the size and make of a shelty, which the children play with”.´[5] Could these ponies have been a remnant group of adult Hippidion?

Hr also noted that the Aonikenk horses were “altered […] to a considerable degree from the original [Spanish] race”, and that though they were smaller than them, their heads and legs were larger.[5] This perhaps reflects not an alteration of pure European horses but their interbreeding with pre-Hispanic horses.

Is there other evidence of these surviving prehistoric horses?

Yes, we have the testimony of Spanish conquistador, Captain Juan Fernández who was the first to explore Nahuel Huapi region in 1621. He wrote that the natives on the Limay River had horses.[6]

It could be argued that they had obtained them from the Spanish settlements in southern South America (dating back to the 1530s), which would have given them at least 90 years to come across, tame and master these new beasts.

However there are pre-Hispanic horses in rock art depictions; at Nahuel Huapi Lake one represents a horse riding warrior; it was discovered by Asbjorn Pedersen in 1960.[7]

Pedersen wrote that he was amazed by these horsemen but was even more surprised when he “later noticed that these paintings could be the first tangible manifestation of an extinct fauna, since they do not represent the common horse (Equus caballus), but the American horse (Equus rectidens)”.[8]

These depictions are not contemporary to the Spanish Conquest but ancient because according to D’Orbigny, the Patagonian natives’ “drawings have the uniqueness of never representing animal figures”.[9] This was an exclusive trait of the “ancient” Indians.

Click to See the rock art depicting ancient American horses.

"Mancha" a Manchado Creole horse. From [10].

Mancha was a Creole horse, that was bred from a group of horses purchased by Dr. Emilio Solanet in Chubut. They had belonged to Tehuelche chief Liempichún.
He had the spotted coat of a Manchado horse. He is famous because he rode from Buenos Aires to Washington DC (16,000 km - 10,000 mi.) between 1925 and 1928.

Notice the different build of the Creole (Mancha in the bottom photograph) in comparison to a thoroughbred (upper photograph). They are shorter and sturdier. Also note the domed nasal bone on Mancha -a feature that characterizes Hippidon.

The intriguing possibility of surviving prehistoric Megafaunal Age horses is very exciting. Perhaps science will unveil the mystery by finding recent remains of both creatures.


[1] Mac-Leod Silva, C., (1999). Estudio de los equinos carretoneros…. Univ. Nac. de Chile. pp. 6 [Thesis]. Citing: Evans, W., et al., (1979). El Caballo. Zaragoza: Editorial Acribia.
[2] D’ Orbigny, A. Op. Cit. pp. 79.
[3] Wellman, K. The Sabino Pattern and The Myth of the True-Breeding White/Albino Horse.
[4] Zubizarreta, H. Pelajes Equinos Genética y Transmisión.
[5] Musters, C. Op. Cit. pp.130+
[6] Fernández, M., (2006). Economía y sistemas de asentamiento aborigen en la cuenca del río Limay. Mem. am., ene./dic. 2006, no.14, p.37-73. Citing: Vignati, M., (1939). Los indios poyas. Notas del Museo de La Plata, 4 (Antropología, Nº 12): 211-44. B. Aires. pp. 238-239.
[7] Houssay, A., (1971). El caballo de guerra en la iconografiá argentina.. B. Aires: Ejército Argentino, Comando y Dirección General de Remonta y Veterinaria. pp. 111.
[8] Pedersen, A., (1979). Las pinturas rupestres del parque nacional Nahuel Huapi. Anales de Parques Nacionales XIV (1978): 7-43.
[9] D’Orbigny, A. Op. Cit. pp. 326 and 327.
[10] Aimé Tschiffely - Long Rider

Another version on extant "native American Horses" is the Mormon one Here (I am not a Mormon).

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Pudu Pudu - World's smallest deer


weird but real animals

Pudu pudu (Pudu Puda)

The world’s smallest deer lives in the Patagonian forests. It stands only 38 cm (15 in.) high at the shoulder and 85 cm (2.8 ft.) long ; it weighs about 10 kg (22 lb.). Males have small antlers barely 10 cm (4 in.) long.

Pudu is a very vulnerable species and only a few thousand of them survive in the open.

They are also unique because they can go a long time without drinking water, getting the needed moisture from plants.

Pudu Pudu. By Eduardo Ramilo.

Further reading:

Cites. Pudu Pudu (English)
Ecología y conservación del Pudú Pudu (Pudu Puda, Molina 1782). (Spanish).

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Punalka wild dog. An Andean wolf?


Punalka (or Punalca) is a mythical Mapuche creature. It adopts different shapes, perhaps due to local variations in the myth. It may also vary its shape because the natives applied the same name to different kinds of creatures.

Meaning of Punalka

Punalka is an evil spirit whose name in Mapuche language (Mapudungun ) means alka = body, and pun = night; that is: "body of the night".
It was usually applied to ghouls that lived in or by small water bodies such as ponds or watering holes.[1]

Reptilian Punalka

Bio Bio River had its own spirit a "Punalka", which was its owner or gen-ko (See my post on the Bio Bio "reptile" Here). It has been seen at Callaqui "transformed into a great serpent that slid downstream in a "wiño".[2] Wiño or chueca is a curved club that is very similar to a hockey stick and used in the Mapuche chueca game.

Punalka in this myth may actually be the Bio Bio River reptile, described above as a snake.

Wild dog (wolf?) Punalka

There was however another variety, the "punalka dog", which was a "wild dog that lived in isolation in a "chenque"[*] and moved about in the mountains".[3] In this myth, it is a big black dog which takes a young maiden as his wife. She gradually morphs into a she-wolf. They have puppies.

[*] Chenque. In this book quoted here, it is a cave.

Terrestrial wild dogs were reported by Gregorio Alvarez[4] as "wild trehua" in the area close to Lake Lacar. Trehua is the Mapuche word for dog. These were vicious beings (akin to the puma and wild boars).

Could this be the Andean Wolf? Below is a photograph of the only known pelt belonging to an Andean wolf (notice its black color. Dark, like a Punalka):

Andean wolf pelt

Andean Wolf pelt. From [5].

In a previous post (Here) we mentioned the trehuaco or "water dog"; it seems that threhuaco and Punalka are two different beings.


[1] Barreto, Oscar. (1996). Fenomenología de la religiosidad mapuche. Editorial Abya Yala. pp. 28
[2] Informe de la Comisión Verdad Histórica y Nuevo Trato 2003. Vol.III, Tomo. II. Primera parte del informe final de la Comision de Trabajo Autónomo Mapuche
Capitulo III. Fundamentos y Manifestaciones del Derecho Propio Mapuche. Part 2.3.1.
[3] Fundación Pehuén, (2000). Relatos del hombre y la naturaleza. Epeu ngutram-che ka taiñ mapu-meo (in Spanish and Mapudungun). Santiago: Endesa. Vol 1. pp.13
[4] Alvarez, G., (1969). Donde estuvo el Paraíso. Ed. Pehuén. pp.144.
[5] Shuker, K., (2009). South American Mystery Beasts. Part 1.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More Tree - monsters


Monster trees. We have already mentioned the weird "walking tree" or Inulpamahuida. Today we will comment on two other tree-creatures.


One is the Mapuche Alihuen, which is a dry tree trunk that sometimes appears floating in lakes and rivers. Its branches extended above the water like the contorted arms of a zombie. The Indians believe that these are real creatures, monsters that are harbingers of tragedy.

It has been seen in many Chilean rivers such as Cholchol, Cautín and Quepe.

Sometimes the dead-tree-monster is known as the "dry tree" (árbol seco). [1]

alihuen - A. Whittall

Alihuen, the dry tree spirit. Copyright © 2006 by Austin Whittall


In Tierra del Fuego, we have the opposite creature among the Selk’nam. It was the “Quemanta”, the spirit of the living trees. He was harmless, but the women feared him. [2]

It is interesting that there were three different "tree-monsters" in Patagonia (Inulpamahuida, Quemanta and Alihuen).


[1] Guevara T. Op. Cit. Chapter I.
[2] Gallardo, C., (1910). Los Onas. B. Aires: Cabaut. pp. 333.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

The Worst Patagonian Monsters


No dams in Patagonia.

There are monsters of a different kind in Patagonia, they are terryfing and very real. Their power is incredible and they can destroy and ruin a beautiful place in a very short time.

These monsters are not primitive, they are high tech multinational energy companies that under the guise of "sustainable hydroelectric energy" are trying to make a good profit for their shareholders.

Several Patagonian rivers are under attack right now. Economic interests may prevail over sound ecological reasons and ruin a pristine environment.

Futaleufú River dams

Futaleufú River -Mapuche for "big river"- (our previous post Here on the Yelcho Lake creature, mentioned this river, which feeds the lake) is under threat.

Below I quote a very interesting summary by Futa Friends on this serious problem:

Dams and the Energy Chile Needs

The HidroAysen Project is the most ambitious dam proposal in the history of Chile. The Natural Resources Defense Council, International Rivers, and Chilean partners Ecosistemas and Chile Ambiente, are leading the Patagonia Without Dams Campaign. The proposed project threatens every river in Chilean Patagonia from future damming. The HidroAysen project, along with proposing the construction of 5 dams on 2 of Patagonia's most pristine rivers, the Pascua and Baker, plans on building a 2000 km high-voltage transmission line North to Santiago, creating the world's longest clear-cut. The proposed dams would flood rare temperate rainforests and some of Patagonia's best ranching lands. The rainforest areas that the dams and transmission lines would eliminate do not exist anywhere else on the planet. Along with altering Chile's environment from the South to the Central Valley, the project threatens future damming of other rivers in Patagonia. Once the transmission line is in place, rivers such as the Puelo, Yelcho, Palena and the infamous Futaleufu will also be scheduled for damming.[1]

Gold mines that poison the environment

Another threat in the region is gold mining (cyanide is used to separate the metal from the ore - more on this gold mininng and contamination). In Argentina, time and time again, a big corporation (Yamana Gold Inc.) with the connivance of government officials has been trying to set up a gold mining operation at Esquel, right beside the Los Alerces National Park; read more on this Here (No a la Mina).

Did yo know that one gold ring generates 20 tons of mine waste? (read more Here)

Online Resources

For more details, Patagonia Chilena sin represas! (Chilean Patagonia without
dams) has a great website. Check it out Here in English, and this page in Spanish, on the Futaleufú River Project. They have a downloadable book online Here.


[1] Futa Friends

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Lake Yelcho "cuervo" (or is it "cuero"?)


lake Yelcho

Lake Yelcho. From [2].

Today, I came across an interesting article about kayaking in the Patagonian Andes.[1] In it they mention a lake creature that I had not heard about before: "el Cuervo".

This lake, is located in Chile, 46 km (29 mi.) south of the town of Chaitén, and is fed by the Futaleufú River, whose sources are in the Los Alerces National Park in Argentina. It has a surface area of 116 km2 (44 sq. mi.) and is set at a very low altitude (70 m - 230 ft.); it flows into the Pacific Ocean through the Yelcho River.

It is surrounded by several volcanos (Corcovado and Nevado).

Map lake Yelcho

Map showing Lake Yelcho (center-right).

The creature is described in the article as follows:

Cuervo is the leather-backed monster that has long been rumored to dwell in Lago Yelcho. For generations, campesinos have warned their children not to venture near the lake at night.[1]

I had never before heard about this creature, and I am inclined to believe that it is a misspelling of the word "cuero" - the "lake hide" (see my post on it Here). Somehow a letter "v" found its way into the word "cuero" and the outcome has been another word "Cuervo".

Cuervo means crow or raven in Spanish. There are no crows in Patagonia (or in South America), they only live in the Northern Hemisphere.

However we have posted (Here) on a cuero and other strange lake creatures found upstream along the Futaleufú river, at Lake Rosario in Argentina (it is just beyond the right edge of the map above).


[1] Canoe & Kayak. Kayaks across the Andes
[2] Wikipedia. By Develp. Under a Creative commons Share Alike 3.0 license

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters
Hits since Sept. 2009:
Copyright © 2009-2018 by Austin Victor Whittall.
Todos los derechos reservados por Austin Whittall para esta edición en idioma español y / o inglés. No se permite la reproducción parcial o total, el almacenamiento, el alquiler, la transmisión o la transformación de este libro, en cualquier forma o por cualquier medio, sea electrónico o mecánico, mediante fotocopias, digitalización u otros métodos, sin el permiso previo y escrito del autor, excepto por un periodista, quien puede tomar cortos pasajes para ser usados en un comentario sobre esta obra para ser publicado en una revista o periódico. Su infracción está penada por las leyes 11.723 y 25.446.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other - except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without prior written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

Please read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy before accessing this blog.

Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy

Patagonian Monsters -