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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

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


  1. Could it be a jaguar?

  2. yes, it could be a jaguar.
    Actually, there were jaguars in Patagonia until quite recently.
    However, they do not carry their young on their backs. So, the creature might be some other kind of animal.
    Thank you for your comment.

  3. Excellent blog! I will get your book.

  4. I often wonder if it could be a giant relative of Lutrina marina (the Argentine sea otter) or Amazonian yapok (a.k.a. "water possum").

  5. Aguará Guazú/maned wolf??

  6. Could be the anteater too!! long and hairy tail and carry their young on their back!!

  7. The giant anteater??

  8. Lontra Provocax, the type of otter that lives on patagonian rivers.
    They have feline features. The color of their hair is usually lighter around the mouth all the way to the ears and they have plenty of whiskers (aka beards). Short hair, narrow body and long tails.
    Females carry their pups close and are very protective of them. Plus its very common for the little pups to be carried on top of their mother while they are on the water (on the bellys tho) Everything seems to match the description more or less.
    And it will make sense that they would catch them making pits, since it wouldn't have to be as large as imagined.
    Plus they are not so common, in fact they are listed as a species at extinction risk.

    1. Thank you for your commment, yes in fact the "HUILLIN" (Lontra Provocax) is a good candidate.


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