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, September 30, 2009

Creature at Lake Buenos Aires / General Carrera


Lake Buenos Aires / General Carrera, (46°28’ S, 71°34’ W) is shared by Argentina and Chile, and is the second largest lake in South America after Lake Titicaca. It has a surface area of 1.850 km2 (715 sq. mi).

It is a deep windswept body of water that flows into the South Pacific Ocean, 140 km (87 mi) long and 24 km (15 mi) at its widest point.

In 1899, Doctor Santiago Roth of the La Plata Museum wrote that his Tehuelche guide, chief Kánkel had told him a story that he had heard from his grandfather about a “very fierce animal at Lake Buenos Aires […] it was very dangerous to go close to it. He described it saying that when it roared all the animals ran away and that once when he was hunting ostriches [ñandú – Rhea americana] close to the lake, it had killed a whole troop of horses”.[1]

He went on to remark that as the natives were very superstitious he paid no attention to the story until he noticed that Kánkel was terrified of going near
the lake; Roth finally forced him to go, but even so, he could not get him to go closer than 1 km [0.6 mi.] from its shores.[1]

Roth believed that the beast was an Iemisch[*] that the natives of his time only knew about through their folklore. When he asked if they have seen the creature they would reply “no, but I have been told by such and such an Indian or chief who has seen it”.[1]

[*] Iemisch: is a mythical aquatic creature said to live in Southern Patagonia. See our post on Iemisch.

Kánkel’s tribe camped at Senguer River just 160 km (100 mi) north of the lake. This river was also home to another terrible creature (or maybe the same one): Muster’s water tiger.

On the Chilean side, where the Lake’s name changes to General Carrera, in 2009, two locals reported “seeing the ‘lake monster’ again”. Apparently it was first sighted at the “Catedrales de Marmol”, a rock formation on the lake’s northern shore close to Puerto Tranquilo after Hudson Volcano’s 1991 eruption.

Another local, named Lautaro reported that after hearing splashing sounds in the lake, saw “a mysterious creature, about six meters [18 ft.] long […] it looked like a serpent […] had smooth skin in the front part of its body and with scales on its tail”.[2]


[1] Hauthal, R., Roth, S., Lehmann-Nitsche, R. (1899). El mamifero misterioso de la Patagonia, Grypotherium domesticum. Revista del Museo de La Plata, v. ix. pp. 445.
[2] Irles L., (2009). El monstruo del Lago general Carrera. It has photographs (Spanish language blog) With my special thanks to Mr. Luis Irles.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Nahuelito - the "hide" (El cuero)


Many books and articles state that the legend of Nahuelito dates back to before the arrival of the Spaniards (earlier than 1540). These Conquistadors then heard about it from the natives at Lake Nahuel Huapi and recorded it in their chronicles.

For photographs and more information on lake Nahuel Huapi click to see our post: Lake Nahuel Huapi (Tiger Island) - "Nahuelito's home".

This is false. Not one reference of the beast can be found in print before the early XXth century. None of the colonial period chroniclers or the priests (Laguna, Guglielmo, Mascardi, and Menendez) who set up missions around the lake in the late 1600s and early 1700s mention it. Neither did the first explorers (Moreno, Fonck, Steffen, and Cox) who actually rowed across the lake, exploring its coves, fjords and islands.

It is revealing that during the plesiosaur furore Onelli mentioned several alleged sightings of strange creatures in Patagonia but not one is dated prior to the 1880s; and none were recorded at Lake Nahuel Huapi.

So, despite what has been written in sensationalist articles, it is only in the 1920s that we find the first printed record of a strange water creature in Nahuel Huapi Lake. Not earlier.

Nahuelito – its first printed appearance.

It was apparently first seen around 1910, but it was only made public in 1922, coincidentally with the Plesiosaur expedition. The article was published in the Toronto Globe, Canada, April 6, 1922 under the headline “Local man lays claim to having caught sight of gigantic plesiosaur”. The man named George Garrett said that about 1910 as a manager of company on Lake Nahuel Huapi while sailing in “an inlet called Pass Coytrue”, he saw [1]:

"an object which appeared to be 15 or 20 feet [4,5 or 6 m] in diameter, and perhaps six feet above the water [1,8 m]. After a few minutes, the monster disappeared. On mentioning my experience to my neighbours, they said the Indians often spoke of immense water animals they had seen from time to time."

This is also the first reference to Indians and “large water animals”; there were Mapuche myths regarding water creatures, but none of them mention “immense” animals.

Though there is no inlet named Pass Coytrue on the lake, the best fit size-wise is similar sounding “Paso Coihue”, at the base of Huemul Fjord (40°58’ S, 71°20’ W), one of the lake’s deep arms.

See my Nahuel Huapi map.

Not seen again until the 1970s.

The next sighting was at Lake Gutierrez in 1938 just 16 km [10 mi.] from the town of Bariloche (41°08’ S, 71°18’ W).[2] However it is cited in unreferenced articles and we could not corroborate it.

It is often incorrectly stated, quoting an article published in Newsweek magazine, that in 1960 the Argentine navy pursued a large submerged object in the lake. This is absolutely false.

The article tells of the navy searching for an "unidentified undersea object” which was surely a cold war spy as it was close to a naval base in the South Atlantic. It does not mention Nahuelito but jokingly asks “Was it a whale? Or an amphibious flying saucer? Or the Loch Ness monster gone astray?”[3]

No reports were published until the late 1970s, when one placid midday in February 1976, by the Parque Hotel, close to Bariloche, Aquiles Lamfre said he saw on the calm lake, at about 1.600 meters (1 mi.) from the shore, a whirlpool, and an “enormous animal with a dark back and long neck with a snake-like head […] it then submerged”. Eleven years later he saw its body again (no head or neck this time).[4]

In autumn 1976, my parents’ friends, “Coca” and Vincent Trussle saw something unusual; their home, “Cari Hue”, overlooked the lake and she had seen strange things in the past, but had explained them as currents, wind, etc., this time she saw something odd. Just one kilometer closer to Bariloche, Trussle's friends Bill and Hilda Rumboll saw the same thing at the same time. They all agreed that the “bicho” (critter) always turned up in February.

Hilda Rumboll's sighting was published in March 1978 (Revista Siete Días Magazine “¿Monstruos prehistóricos en Bariloche?”) and she recalled that it was a beautiful fall afternoon, the lake was very calm: “something odd was crossing the waters at a considerable speed, leaving a great wake”. She and her husband looked at it through binoculars and noticed what “seemed like a long swan’s neck. Then it turned towards the coast and it took on the appearance of a post and then it disappeared in the midst of a great stirring of water”. She judged its size as being 5 m (16 ft.).[5]

In May 1979 people by the lake reported seeing something moving in the water about half a kilometer from the shore (1,600 ft.) estimating its size as 5 m, others believed it was just a tree trunk.[5]

During the 1980s, a local reporter, Carlos Bustos, named it Nahuelito.[6]

In October 1986, Ms. Stella Maris López, saw an “oversized animal” with a snake-like triangular head and a pair of scale covered humps.[4]

December 1986, an Engineer, Guillermo Varzi (or Barzi) while returning in a speed boat from a picnic at Bahia Lynch on Quetrihué Peninsula saw something moving at about “25 or 30 km per hour [15 - 18 mi. per hour]”[3]; his daughter Martina took a photograph, which was published in Diario Rio Negro [daily]”.[7][8] He said that “at first I thought that it was a submarine. Then I saw a serpent head and behind it black fins like those of a dolphin or a shark”.11

In November 1987, José Ulesia and other 26 staff members of the Centro Atómico Bariloche saw the dark back of an animal in the lake close to Playa Bonita.[7]

Also in 1987, a former pilot of Austral Líneas Aéreas airline, Alfredo Julio Passo, captain of the tourist vessel “Paisano”, saw a “head like that of a black snake”.[9]

Local newspaper “Rio Negro”, reported on January 22, 1988 a sighting that occurred right in front of the city of San Carlos de Bariloche, close to the City Hall. A group of workers of the telephone company, a Fire fighting brigade and an employee of the Forest Department were witnesses of this creature; they saw “a great wake of froth in the lake, about 15 m [49 ft.] long, and at its tip there was a dark spot, similar to an animal’s back”. Despite using binoculars, they could not make out what it looked like.

The Forest Department employee said that she had seen “two humps” and when using binoculars she saw a “great dark splotch that moved at great speed”.[7]

It was seen again, and filmed eleven days later. The short clip whose author is unknown showed something moving quickly across the waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi, leaving a wake and at least two dark objects creating it. A witness at Playa Bonita noted its “angular head of a giant snake and look of an antidiluvian animal”.[8]

In 1989, a group of tourists led by Isabel Muller saw a creature 20 m long (66 ft.) moving under the water. One of the group, Jorge Brodo, photographed it and said it was “similar to a submarine underwater though its movement was too flexible”. [9]

In 1990, B. Aires daily “Diario Popular” reported a sighting close to Isla Victoria, where witnesses saw a “strange hump or [animal’s] back”.[4]

On the evening of January 1, 1994, Jessica Campbell and Paula Jacarbe while on the beach at San Pedro Peninsula with a calm lake saw the animal appear close to the shore. It was as big as a whale and its back showed many humps, two small fins; they even heard it breathing. But, like most sightings they did not see its head. It reappeared twice and when it swam straight towards Ms. Campbell as she sat on a rock by the shore, she ran away from it.[2][10][11]
In September 1993 a video showing a strangely moving wake in the Lake’s Campanario Arm was aired on the Bariloche Cable TV program Buenos Muchachos. It can be seen on YouTube, we insert the clip below:[12]

It was seen during the summer of 1996 but not in 1997; it reappeared in January 1998 at a stream, Ragintuco, just north of Huemul Fjord. A couple, Graciela Carello and Rubén Ehara were fishing there when they the calm water surface began to “fill with white foam and a dark brown back began surfacing […] the animal must have got frightened because it slid under water causing great waves […] its back measured about 2 meters [6.5 ft.].”[6]

In 2000, Christian Muller, 11 km (6.8 mi.) from the center of Bariloche, at 7 AM during a cloudy windless day early in summer, saw what he took to be a boat because of its wake. However the dark color called his attention, as no boats at the local nautical club had dark hulls. Suddenly the big dark object submerged in the lake.[10]

In April 2006, three photographs of Nahuelito were anonymously left at the reception desk of the local daily “El Cordillerano”. They are very likely fake.[13]

More recently, in November 2007 a woman named Rosalba Painefil saw, close to the mouth of Ñirihuau River, to the east of Bariloche, an “animal or something like it […] enormous and not at all like a cow or a deer […] it came out to the shore and then went back in to the lake, disappearing […] it had like a head, but it did not look like anything known; it was very big".[14]

In April 2008, not one but two separate “things” resembling “bus roofs” or “rectangular submarines” surface close to Bariloche's downtown district making a lot of bubbles. Their size was estimated at 8 by 4 m and 6 by 3 m (26 x 13 ft. and 20 x 10 ft.). One jutted out of the water some 40 cm (16 in.) and looked like a “tortoise” or a “hamburger”; both shone brightly in the sun.[15]

In November 2008, a fake-looking photograph was published in the Bariloche daily, El Cordillerano. The photographer said that he had thought that there were some huillínes fluttering around under the water. The image looks like a floating trunk, definitively a fake.[16]

What is Nahuelito?

These descriptions are quite varied, and although some are consistent (snake head, long neck, large size) and hinting at a huge plesiosaur-like being, most depict turbulent waters, wakes, “dark humps”, bubbles, foam and fast moving animals with small heads.

Plesiosaurs are not an option as they have been definitively extinct for 65 million years so another explanation must be found.
Setting aside the notion of a hoax (one that helps promote tourism and keep Bariloche in the public eye), there is the possibility that people see what they think they should see. Knowing that there have been sightings of a plesiosaur-like being in the lake, anything that looks unusual will be attributed to this beast.
The most likely explanations

Plesiosaur. Author’s sketch.

When seeing at a distance a snake-like monster with many humps swimming with a winding motion, the most likely explanation is that it is not what it seems (giant aquatic reptile), but a group of Huillines (Patagonian otters).

Huillínes (Lontra provocax) enjoy swimming in a playful manner, diving and resurfacing and when swimming in line something they often do, they may look like an extinct plesiosaur. See my post on swimming otters with photographs.

Close up, their wet fur can give the impression of being scales (see my post on this interesting similarity: reptilian scales on otters).

Under very calm conditions (such as Trussle's and Rumboll’s sighting) the wake caused by a creature too small to be seen like a group of swimming birds such as the Huala (Podiceps major) taking off and landing can create intermittent wakes like some underwater creature surfacing.

Different objects may also be mistaken for lake monsters such as fish swimming near the surface, bobbing logs or long-necked birds.

Interestingly, during autumn (March) is the Red Deer’s (Cervus elaphus) breeding season. During this period called the rut, stags aggressively compete for the attentions of the females (hinds).

Stags are also known to swim across the lake from Huemul Peninsula to Victoria Island searching for females, an open and exposed stretch 2 km (1.25 mi.) wide and over 200 m (655 ft.) deep.

An inexperienced observer would swear seeing Nahuelito if confronted with a swimming deer.

Another option is swimming wild boars. These exotic (they are not native to Patagonia) animals were brought from Europe by an Argentine aristocrat to his hunting lodge at Huemul Peninsula in the 1911 and set loose. By 1999 they had swam across the open lake between the peninsula and Victoria Island, settling there. See my post on Patagonian bears for more details.

Another little known factor is the seiche, a type of wave that is present in many lakes, but is usually unnoticeable except during periods of unusual calm. Seiches may cause an unexpected stirring in the water, a change in its color. They arise when a strong and constant wind, blowing over the lake’s surface forces the water to accumulate at the down-wind shore. When the wind stops, the water level will begin to return to its original equilibrium through a series of broad oscillations across the entire lake. Often referred to as the bathtub effect, seiches cause the water levels to rise and fall along the coast and waves reflect back and forth, mixing and merging to forming vortices.

At Nahuel Huapi's Campanario Arm, this phenomenon is particularly notable due to its shallow end and its long and narrow shape, which allows wind-caused seiche to form.[17] Furthermore; it causes an anti-clockwise rotating vortex just like the one seen in the 1993 YouTube video.[18]

It was at San Pedro, on the Campanario Arm that Campbell and Jucarbe saw their monster on a calm day. It may have been a seiche.

Furthermore, bubbles of natural gas from an oil field, suddenly released from faults that lie under the lake's bed could explain froth, wakes and dark patches reported by many observers.

This coincides with a local belief that “the mythical Nahuel Huapi monster appears during summer season on hot days and with absolute lack of wind”.[10]

Seiches can also stir the water column moving pollutants, sediments and organic matter towards the surface. This could cause colored patches on the lake surface. Furthermore, summer causes warming of the deeper water layers. Some Bariloche experts suggest that warmer water in summer causes fermentation of organic matter lying on the shallow lake bed areas which causes bubbles of carbon dioxide to surface.[10]

Light refraction can cause mirages on the water distorting the shape and size of things giving them an unrecognizable form.[19] These optical effects can be caused by the wind giving the water a matt appearance interspersed with calm areas reflecting mountains as dark ovals which can appear as humps if seen from the shore.

The mythical “Cuero” (cow hide).

Garret had said that “the Indians often spoke of immense water animals they had seen from time to time”;[3] since then many have attempted to link Nahuelito to the Mapuche “Cuero” myth. But, as we will see below, they are very different beings.

The “Cuero”, which in Spanish means hide or leather, also known as Manta (blanket) or Devil’s Manta, is a Mapuche belief.

The creature’s name is due to its shape, like that of a large extended cow hide; its Mapuche name is Threquelhuecuvu (Threlque or Thelque meaning hide and Huecuvu malefic spirit – i.e. gualicho), though it is also known as Trelquelafquen (lake hide)[20][21]

The Cuero lives in lakes and rivers but can also be found in the sea. It prefers small dark lakes. Naturalist Juan Ignacio Molina described it in the late 1700s as a man eating lake monster that was “nearly circular, like an extended cow hide”.[22]
On its body’s edge it has sharp claws, and it is said that its head has tentacles and a pair of bulging red eyes. Its mouth is under its body, in the center, resembling a suction pad, through which it sucks the body fluids of its victims, killing them.[23]

Amphibian, it comes out of the water and lies concealed on beaches where it captures men and animals that happen to walk over it, by wrapping itself quickly around them, holding them fast with its claws and suffocating them to death. It then quickly drags its victim to the lake to eat it.[20][23] The natives killed the cuero by throwing thorny cacti into the water, that when grabbed by the beast, pierced it causing its death.[21]

Latcham believed that the cuero myth originated from a squid species that can grow to a length of 1,2 meters (3.9 ft.) without taking into account its tentacles.[24]

According to Father Juan Ignacio Molina it was “a monstrous type of Manta ray”, or perhaps a squid with cat-like nails; the 'Seppia unguiculata'" (its Latin name means “clawed” Seppia).[22]

This giant squid which can measure up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length is also known as Taningia danae, is “armed with a double row of joints or sharp nails, similar to those of a cat, that withdraw –like those- into a sort of seath”.[21]

During the 1922 “plesiosaur expedition” [we will write about this in another post] part of the group was invited by a local potentate, Primo Capraro to visit his lodge at Lake Correntoso (40°44’ S, 71°40’ W) so that they could look into the “cuero” myth. They sailed up Nahuel Huapi Lake, to Correntoso, where they searched in vain.[25]

The ray theory is the most reasonable explanation, in fact the shape and size of the cuero are similar those of fresh water stingrays.

However these apparently do not live in the Patagonian lakes or rivers, their habitat is in the Tropical to Temperate regions of eastern South America.
Nevertheless, after a 1976 accident that sent a bus full of tourists to the bottom of Lake Moreno close to Bariloche, rescue divers were sent in to fetch the bodies of those who had drowned. According to some of them, they saw “rays of a great size on the bottom of the lake”.[4] but there is no formal mention of stingrays in any Patagonian lake in any published scientific paper.

South America is home to the only exclusively freshwater stingrays in the world, the family Potamotrygonidae. The closest to Patagonia live in the Paraná River basin. These rays have a sharp spike on the rear of their tail which they use for self-defense and, interestingly, their disk can be covered with small denticles, small to large thorns which are thooth-like in structure, and covered with a tough enamel.[26]

Rays are dangerous, if stood on by an unaware person wading in the water, they bend their tail and strike with their sting inoculating poison; this causes a very painful wound that is slow curing and can ulcerate.

These rays can grow quite large, up to 1 m (3.3 ft.) diameter and have an elliptical shape; however none have “claws” along their edges.

Jesuit Father Falkner, who wrote extensively about Patagonia, noted that their very sharp barb can cause nasty wounds because it is difficult and painful to remove due to its serrated saw-like edges. The wound can get infected or cause tetanus and death.

If we accept the theory of a Guaraní origin for the Mapuche, we could assume that the Mapuche met the freshwater rays when they migrated to Chile from the Parana basin region.

It would be much more likely that they met rays by the sea on the South Pacific coast of Chile. They would have been amazed to find a dead manta ray washed up on a rocky beach. There are several sea rays in Chile: Dipturus chilensis, D. trachyderma, as well as the enormous manta rays Myliobatis chilensis and Mobula tarapacana.

But there is another intriguing option: Potamotrygonidae are related to the Dasyatid rays who often venture into fresh water in several parts of the world; one of these species can be found off the Chilean Patagonian coast. Maybe these Dasyatids swam up the rivers into the Andean lakes and their denticles were taken for claws.

Nahuelito the “monster” does not exist.

It seems that Nahuelito can be explained with huillínes, logs, or seiches, and that the cuero may be a freshwater stingray or a myth born elsewhere and later taken inland by the Mapuche.

Over nearly forty years, the author has spent many hours on the lake in boats and along its shores, fishing, sunbathing or just looking at the great scenery and has not once seen anything unusual. No ominous shadows under the water, no humped monsters or swan-necked beings.

However, as we will see in the following chapter, most of the Patagonian lakes have their own mysterious beings; this is a fact that can’t be ignored. Lack of evidence is not evidence of absence.

So it could be possible that there is some strange animal –though not a Plesiosaur- living placidly concealed in the deep blue waters of Nahuel Huapi.


[1] Coleman, L., and Huyghe, P., (2003). The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. pp.120+.
[2] Picasso, F., (1998). South American Monsters and Mystery Animals. Strange Magazine, N° 20. 12-1998. 28–35.
[3] Newsweek magazine. The Wily Whatzit?. 22.02.1960. pp. 57.
[4] Jarré, S., (2004). Guarida de Monstruos. Los 32 rumbos de la Rosa de los Vientos. Año 1. N° 3. IV: 42 – 47.
[5] Duda (1979). Noticiero de lo insólito, En Argentina: monstruo parecido al de Loch Ness. (409), 1, 02.05.1979.
[6] Diario Hoy, (1998) Volvió a aparecer “Nahuelito” en Bariloche. La Plata, Argentina. 11.01.1998
[7] Diario Río Negro, (1988). Otra vez Nahuelito. General Roca, Argentina. 02.01.1988.
[8] Diario Río Negro, (1988). Logran filmar al extraño animal del lago Nahuel Huapi. 07.02.1988.
[9] Billiken (1989). Issues 3616-3633. Ed. Atlántida. pp. 49.
[10] British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club. Nahuelito (Lago Nahuel Huapi).
[11] Eberhart, G., (2002). Misterious Creatures: A guide to Cryptozoology. S. Barbara: ABC Clio. pp. 366.
[12] Signato F. Nahuelito – Bariloche – Buenos Muchachos - Año 93.
[13] La Gaceta (2006), ¿Reapareció Nahuelito? Tucuman, Argentina. 18.04.2006.
[14] Noticias de Bariloche, (2007). Curioso Avistaje de una Vecina. Bariloche, Argentina. 15.11.2007.
[15] Bariloche 2000 Diario Digital, (2008) Uno ya era bastante. Bariloche, Argentina. 30.04.2008.
[16], (2008). ¿Es 'El Nahuelito'? B. Aires, Argentina. 19.01.2008.
[17] Buscaglia, G. et al., (1997). El futuro del Nahuel Huapi: El modelado numerico como herramienta de prediccion y planeamiento. Instituto Balseiro y Centro Atomico Bariloche. 20.01.1997. Online.
[18] Centro Atómico Bariloche - Instituto Balseiro (2001). Proyecto Simulación computacional en fluidodinámica ambiental.
[19] Lehn, W. H., (1979) Science, Atmospheric Refraction and Lake Monsters . Jul 13;205(4402):183-185.
[20] Rothschild, D., et al. (1996). Protegiendo lo nuestro: Pueblos indígenas y biodiversidad. Quito: SAIIC. pp.43+.
[21] Molina, J., (1986). Ensayo sobre la historia Natural de Chile. Santiago: Ediciones Maule. pp. 208.
[22] Ibid. pp.233.
[23] Latcham, R., (1924). La organización social y las creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Santiago: Cervantes. pp. 575+.
[24] Ibid. pp. 610.
[25] Rey, C., (2007). Nahuelito: El misterio Sumergido. Bariloche: Caleuche, 2007. pp. 75.
[26] Berra, T. M., (2007). Freshwater Fish Distribution. University of Chicago Press. pp. 22 +.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Patagonian natives - Part 2


Patagonian Natives
Argentine stamps depicting native chiefs. Casimiro Biguá a Tehuelche [left] and Valentín Saihueque [right]. courtesy of © 2009 Correo Oficial de la República Argentina S.A.


The northwestern area of Patagonia spanning the north and central parts of the current province of Neuquén in Argentina and Chile’s VIIIth, IXth and Xth Regions were peopled by the Mapuche (who in the past were also known as Araucanian, a name that has now fallen out of use).

They are apparently not related to the older populations that inhabited the rest of Patagonia. In fact, their origin is quite a mystery.

Originally established in central Chile, they were first dislodged southwards by the Incas who invaded the region in the mid 1400s incorporating it to their Empire. Spanish “Conquistadors” after destroying the Inca Empire entered Chile in 1541. Conquistador is a Spanish word meaning conqueror; they were the adventurers, soldiers and explorers who took the New World by force, seeking gold, silver and precious stones and forced the natives to work in the mines that produced them. Violent and merciless, they found their match in Chile. Mapuche and Spaniards engaged in a war that continued for over three hundred years; the longest standoff between natives and Europeans in America. Spanish conquest gradually forced the Mapuche to move south towards the Island of Chiloé and deeper into the southern forests.

They also moved westwards across the Andes, settling on its eastern foot-hills in what is now Neuquén, where they “Araucanized” the local natives, who adopted their very convenient language (Mapudungun). The Mapuche progressively extended their influence eastwards towards the Pampas, and through war, trade and cattle rustling, absorbed and “Araucanized” the original “Puelche” inhabitants of Tehuelche blood during the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries.

The Mapuche were sedentary farmers who made pottery and wove wool. This distinguishes them from all the other Patagonian natives who were nomadic hunter-gatherers, lacking pottery and textiles, living in leather tents, the “toldos”, hunting guanaco and ñandú (The Patagonian ñandú or choique Rhea pennata, is a flightless bird similar to an ostrich. It is 1 m [3 ft.] tall and weighs 20 kg [44 lb.]. It can run at speeds of up to 60 km/h [37 mph]. )

After military campaigns conducted by the Argentine and Chilean governments in the 1870s, the Mapuche territory was occupied by both countries. There is still a sizeable Mapuche population of about one million in Chile and some 200.000 in Argentina. They fared far better than the other Patagonian natives, which were virtually wiped out by disease, alcohol and the disruption of their culture.

More on the Mapuche: Mapuche International (in English).

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters



Cryptozoology is a controversial scientific field (actually most mainstream scientists do not consider it a science at all).

This is unfair because Cryptozoology is definitively not about UFOs, abductions or paranormal events.

It is the study of animals that are hypothesized to exist but for which we are lacking physical evidence to prove their existence. These are hidden or “yet-to-be-discovered” animals.

Its name derives from Greek kryptos (hidden), zoon (animal), and logos (discourse), hence “the study of hidden/unknown animals”.

These “unknown animals” (known as cryptids) may be species yet undiscovered by science or surviving members of species that are believed to be extinct.

• An example of the first category (yet undiscovered) is the recent discovery of strange rats and frogs in Papua New Guinea (Article in The Guardian 07.Sep.2009).

• A living specimen of a supposedly extinct species is the Coelacanth, a "living fossil".

The objective of cryptozoology is to research these cryptids and find evidence of their existence.

Cryptozoology is therefore a discipline that combines biology and anthropology. Traditional stories, folklore, journals and eyewitness accounts, mythical tales and legends may hide clues about the existence of cryptids. These clues are then analyzed and contrasted with known species in order to discard unlikely candidates and focus on the features of the unknown cryptid.

The most known and extreme examples of cryptids are the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and Mothman. But there are countless other mystery animals studied by cryptozoology.

As we mentioned above, many consider cryptozoology as a pseudoscience.
The fact that this science has to rely heavily on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence (folklore, myths) makes it difficult to substantiate its claims and prove them in a scientific manner.

The actual animals are usually not there for analysis, so in general, many scientists and skeptics do not recognize it as a branch of zoology.

Perhaps the lack of strictness by some researchers who uncritically rely on weak evidence or poor research may have contributed to mar cryptozoology’s standing.

In our opinion, healthy skepticism, critical thinking and solid investigation are the cornerstones of cryptozoology and it is with this criteria that we have undertaken the research for our book.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Patagonian natives - Part 1


In our previous entry we mention two native groups, the Tehuelche and the Selk'nam, but we have not yet given a background on the people who originally lived in Patagonia.

Before the arrival of Europeans in the early sixteenth century, Patagonia was inhabited by several groups of American natives whose ancestors, the “Paleo-Indians” had settled there some thirty thousand years ago or even earlier.

The oldest dated remains of these first inhabitants are from the end of the last Ice Age about 11,000 years before the present (BP).

Were the descendents of the ancient Patagonian Paleo-Indians. The name was given to them by the Mapuche natives (who lived in northern Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina), and meant “fierce people”.
We group them into two distinct groups, each with cultural and linguistic differences: the Northern Tehuelche (Günnuna Kenna or Gennakenk – which, in their language meant “people”) and the Southern Tehuelche. The region between the Senguer, Chubut and Chico rivers was a flexible border between these groups.

Northern Tehuelche. Gradually, during the XVIIth century these northernmost Tehuelche expanded further north 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 Mapuche language- means “Eastern people”).
In the Pampas they encountered vast quantities of free roaming wild cattle and also the horse which the Spaniards had bought to America. The horse was quickly adopted, and through the Puelche it quickly spread south into the heart of Patagonia.
The original core of the Gennakenk continued living in Patagonia between the Negro and Chubut rivers until their demise in the late nineteenth century.
There was yet another smaller group, on the flanks of the Andes in the Argentine provinces of Chubut and Rio Negro. They were usually at war with the Mapuche who frequently invaded their territory. They were known as the “Chüwach a Künna” (people at the edge of the mountains) and little is known of them.

Patagonian Natives Map

Map showing territories originally occupied by the Patagonian natives (Click to Enlarge)

Southern Tehuelche. They called themselves “Chonik”, which in their language meant “us, the men”. Originally they were “foot Indians” and it was not until the late XVIIth and early XIXth centuries that they adopted the horse. The Southern Tehuelche were divided into two separate sub-groups, very similar except for their language:

• Teushen
(Boreal Southern Tehuelche); they lived in the north, between the Santa Cruz and Chubut rivers.
• Aonikenk or Aonek'enk (Austral Southern Tehuelche), which meant “people of the South”. They lived in the southern area, between the Santa Cruz River and the Strait of Magellan.

Fuegian natives
Finally, Tierra del Fuego Island, inhabited by four groups all of which have now disappeared; each of them remarkably adapted and specialized to their own habitat.
The Selk’nam (or Ona), and the Haush (or Haus) were “foot Indians” who never adopted an equestrian way of life because horses never reached their island. The Selk’nam were very closely related to the Tehuelche in culture and language; they had become separated from them when the sea level rose and flooded the Strait of Magellan, isolating them on Tierra del Fuego.

The Haush were different and may have descended from the earliest humans to reach the southernmost tip of the Americas 13,000 years ago.

The other Fuegian natives were the “Boat people”, who had a highly developed way of life adapted to living on the sea coast; they moved around in canoes. These people were the Yagan (Yámana), who lived in the Fuegian channels and islands and were the southernmost people in the whole world; and the Alakaluf (or Kawesqar) who lived in the islands of southwestern Patagonia to the north and west of the Yagans. Both had a similar lifestyle differing only in their language.

A third group of boat people were the Chono; they were not Fuegian for they lived nearly 2.000 km (1,200 mi.) further north, around the Chonos Archipelago and Chiloé island –where they were absorbed by the Huilliche (relatives of the Mapuche). Little is known about them because they died out before the XIXth century.

In another post we mention the Mapuche people.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Succarath - The first Patagonian monster


Succarath Patagonian Monster

Súccarath.From: [1] Thevet, A., (1558). pp. 109.

The first Patagonian monster was reported shortly after Magellan discovered Patagonia.
French cosmographer André Thevet wrote about a mysterious beast, the or Succarath.

André Thevet (1502?-1590). French Franciscan priest and cosmographer to several kings of France. He traveled widely and visited South America in 1555. Upon his return to France, he published his experiences in Les singularitez de la France Antarctique (1557) followed by his Cosmographie Universelle (1575).

This fierce and fast creature was excellently described by Jesuit priest Pedro Lozano in the early 1700s:

Towards the Patagones, a very fierce animal can be found. It is called a sú or according to others Succarath and it is usually found on the river banks. It has a hideous figure, at first sight it seems to have the face of a lion or even that of a man, because from its ears grows a beard with hair that is not too long; its body narrows towards the rear, its front end is very large; its tail is long and very hairy, and with it, it hides its pups that it places on its back. This does not prevent it from running swiftly away. It is carnivorous and is hunted by the local natives, who are interested in its fur, because, being of a cold climate; they protect themselves from the weather with it. The usual way of hunting them is to dig a deep hole which they cover with branches; the unwary beast falls into it with its brood and seeing no way out, either out of generosity or anger, tears them apart with its claws, so that they do not fall into the hands of men; roaring at the same time, to terrify its hunters, who coming close to the mouth of the pit, pierce the beast with their arrows.[2]

There is no proof that Thevet had visited Patagonia and his exaggerations and inaccuracies were criticized by his contemporaries and he was known to mix his own first hand knowledge with versions he picked up from other sources (sailors or natives). An example of this is Succarath, which his first book places in Patagonia, close to the Strait of Magellan, but in his second book is moved to Florida in North America.

To his credit, he described the animal in a similar manner in both books: a humanoid yet animal-like bearded face, lion shaped body, long and thick tail used to protect its offspring.

Regarding the meaning of the beast’s name, Thevet asserted that the Patagonians “dress with the fur of certain beasts, that they in their language name Su, which means water”.[1] This is not backed by the “Patagon” vocabulary compiled by Pigafetta thirty years before Thevet (or by later ones compiled in the XIXth century) which mentions a different word, “holi”, as the Aonikenk term for water.[3]

Another discrepancy is that the Tehuelche dressed in guanaco skins, not Sú furs. The guanaco cannot be mistaken for a Succarath; it is like a hump-less camel, a timid and gentle herbivore akin to a llama with slender legs, long neck, and a very short tail; it definitively does not carry its young on its back; instead of roaring, it neighs like a horse.

But Thevet was not the only one to report the Sú; over the next three hundred years the creature was mentioned time and time again in different books that went adding more details.

In Conrad Fore’s (1563) German version of Konrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalum, Sú is mentioned as native to Patagonia. Ambroise Paré in his Livre Des Animaux Et De l'Excellence De l’Homme (1585) stressed its tender love towards its pups. Juan Eusebio Nieremberg’s Historia Naturae, Maxime Peregrinae (1634) also mentioned its love for its young. Polish naturalist Jonannes Jonstonus in 1678 described it thus:

The Su, i. e. water, becauʃe living by rivers moʃtwhat, is found among the Patagons. Some call it Succarath. It hath a fierce Lions looke, yet is bearded from the eare like a man, ʃhort-haired, the belly ʃtrutting out, lank flanked, the tail large and long, as a ʃquirrells. The giantlike men there, the climate being not very hote, wear the skins, for which, when hunted they laytheir young on their back,and cover them with their tail, and ʃo run away, but are taken, whelps, and all in pits covered with boughs. Being faʃt in, for rage, or generouʃneʃʃe they kill their whelps, and cry hideouʃly to fright the hunters; they ʃhoot him dead with arrows, and ʃlea him. Some fain that they in fondneʃʃe carry their young to medows, and there they dreʃʃe each other with garlands of faire ʃweet flowers.[4]

Its fierce and fast nature were later pointed out by Edward Topsell in The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1697); he called it “cruel, untamable, violent, ravening, and bloudy”.[5]

Father Guevara in his History Of Paraguay And The River Plate printed in 1764, also mentioned its “horrifying roars”.

Surprisingly, the Sú even found its way into European Christmas celebrations; many mangers carved in Munich during the early 1800s, depicted it with its young on its back; a symbol of the Flight to Egypt.

Later, towards the end of the XIXth century, Argentine Paleontologist, Florentino Ameghino used the Succarath to support his theory that giant sloths (Mylodons) were still alive somewhere in Patagonia by implying that they were the same creature. But as we will see in the following chapter, they were very different beings.

Thevet stated that the sú was trapped by digging “a deep hole close to its lair […] [and] cover[ing] it with green foliage”.[1]

We know that the natives hunted guanaco and ñandú using bow and arrows before they adopted the use of horses, so why would they dig pits to hunt the Sú? Was it too dangerous to approach on foot and get within an arrow-shot from it? Also, how could these nomadic stone-age Tehuelche dig pits?

Father Falkner had noted that these Indians “bury their dead in big square holes […] covered with beams, trees or intertwined canes, on to which they throw dirt”.[6] The Fuegian Selk’nam natives also buried their dead in shallow graves 1 m (3 ft.) deep.8 This means that even though the Tehuelche lacked steel spades and only had very rudimentary stone tools, they could have dug the traps. Lack of trees on the Patagonian steppe would not be a problem; they could use bushes and shrubs for that purpose.

We can safely assume that the hunting technique is correct; all we need is an animal to incarnate the Sú.

Some authors believe that the Sú is a sloth. However Fernández Oviedo y Valdés, the first European to mention the sloth, described its slow and clumsy nature in his book Sumario De La Natural Historia De Las Indias (1526). It is likely that Thevet would have known about this book and by portraying the Sú as a swift animal, he was clearly indicating that it was not a sloth. Besides, sloths live in the tropical regions of South America, far from the cold Patagonian steppes.

None of the other known mammals living in Patagonia resemble the Sú. It is neither a puma nor a fox; Patagonian hares and skunks, guanaco and huemul are very unlike it.

What it was, is a mystery. Perhaps Succarath is still alive, hunting in the Pagagonian forests.

Further reading:

[1] Thevet, A., (1558). [Engraving]. Les singularitez de la France antarctique… Paris: Chez les héritiers de Maurice de La Porte. pp. 108 and 109 (Illus.).
[2] Lozano, P., (1873). Historia de la conquista del Paraguay, Río de la Plata y Tucumán. B. Aires: Lamas. v. i, pp. 285 – 6.
[3] Pigafetta, A., (1899). Primer Viaje Alrededor del Mundo. Madrid. pp. 129.
[4] Jonstonus, J., (1678). A description of the nature of four-footed beasts… Chap. iii. pp. 112.
[5] Ashton, J., (1890). Curious Creatures in Zoology. London: J. C. Nimmo. pp. 163+.
[6] Falkner, T., (2008). Descripción de Patagonia y de las partes adyacentes de la América meridional. B. Aires: Continente. pp.155.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Huechulafquen Lake Monster - "Huechulito"

Huechulito.From: (22.May.2009).

This lake, is set at the foot of the Andes in southern Neuquén Province, Argentina.(39°46' S, 71°23' W). It is quite large, as it has a surface area of 104 km2 (40 sq. mi.). An extinct volcano, Mount Lanín (3,776 m - 12,380 ft.) high overlooks the lake.

Here, in 1922, Emilio Frey reported -during the Plesiosaur Expedition- that:

many times I heard respectable neighbors of Junín de los Andes say […] that in the Lake Huachi-Lauquen [sic], at dusk, an animal often appears on its surface, which has more or less the same features of the one that is said to have been seen in Esquel. Very long neck, lizard head, body that must be enormous, because when it submerges it produces a sort of “boiling” in the waters.

Recently, a tourist named Jorge Salcedo while on an excursion in a catamaran in March 2009, photographed what looks like a set of three waves that look more like the wake of some boat than the back of an animal swimming just below the surface.

This site has all the photographs, a comment by Mr. Salcedo and the location of the sighting on a map.

The media quickly reported it as a lake creature, and named it “Huechulito”. And the locals recalled that “about 20 years ago some border patrol officers shot at a gigantic reptile that got into the lake and managed to escape”.

You can also see my post on the "cow" at Lake Huechulafquen.

A plausible explanation could involve otters or even gas bubbles surfacing in the lake (there is plenty of geothermal activity and hot water springs in the area).

The reptile resemblance makes it similar to the creature reported in the Bio Bio River in 1914.

Bio-Bio River "reptile"

This "reptile" was sighted at this Chilean River by the town of Santa Bárbara (37°39’ S, 72°01’ W). The creature was described as a “reptile or similar animal”. Its lair was on an inaccessible cliff by the river. This “kind of lizard, enormously thick, three or more meters long, of a light gray color” left a track “close to a meter wide and similar to that of a snake dragging itself”. It hunted sheep and calves.

It also resembles the "Culebrón" myth of the Mapuche natives, which we will write about in another entry.

Further reading:

El Dia La Plata. 20.05.2009. Monstruo del Huechulaufquen: ¿mito o pura realidad?
Diario Uno. Mendoza. 21.5.2009. Crece el mito del Huechulito.
Gröthe, S. Reptil en el Rio Bio Bio – 1914. Bestiario de lo cotidiano y extraordinario. (14.11.2008) Citing: La Prensa. Curicó, Chile. 28.03.1914. pp. 4.

Lea este post en español

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 



Chupacabras is a relatively newcomer to Patagonia. None of the ancient native myths mention it. Neither is it found in any of the chronicles written by those who Explored Patagonia.

In April 2009, a strange animal was seen at Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego. It attacked the policeman’s car, scratching it as it ran away. The startled witness said it was “completely hairy”, had red eyes, large claws and was about 1,5 m (5 ft.) tall.
It was sighted again, both in Rio Grande and in the village of Tolhuin by eight people who described it as “a lamb that suffered a strange mutation, as its skin is like that of a cat”. One said it resembled a “werewolf” and stood on two feet. The local media quickly reported that it was a chupacabras

Links to the news reports:

And a link to an extensive article on Chupacabras in Chile:

Revista AFR No. 18

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters
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