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

Friday, October 16, 2009

The water tiger


As mentioned in a previous post, Ameghino also called the Iemisch a “water tiger”; which, unlike the Iemisch, is mentioned in several native’s myths.

The first European to report the creature was George Musters, who heard about it while crossing Patagonia from south to north, in 1870 with a group of natives.

George Chaworth Musters (1841-1879). A British sailor and explorer, he traveled in 1869 to the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands and from there set out in 1870 to trek Patagonia with a group of natives. His book At home with the Patagonians[1] details his journey. He attempted another expedition in 1873 but the Mapuche turned him back.

Though he did not manage to see one, he was baffled by the native’s description of the creature.

At the place the Indians called Senguel, on what is now Senguer River -where Ameghino reported the Hompen-Iemisch encounter- close to what is now the town of Alto Rio Senguer in Argentina (45°02’ S, 70°50’ W), Musters wrote that:

we proceeded to the wooded river […] and then forded the stream, which is of considerable width and very rapid. The Indians declared that it was impossible for any man to swim across the river in the deeper portion below the ford, on account of some ferocious beasts which they termed water tigers – ‘Tigres de l’agua’ - which would certainly attack and devour any one in the water. They described them as yellow quadrupeds, larger than puma.[1]

He then mentioned that they had left two ñandú (South American ostriches) carcasses on the river bank and discovered them:

the following day in the shallow water, torn and half- devoured, and the tracks of an animal resembling those of a large puma were plainly visible leading down to the water ; but a puma invariably drags its prey to a bush ; and, though jaguar will take the water readily, I have never known one devour its prey except on land, nor, as far as I know, are they found so far south.[1]

He thus discarded that the animal was a puma; and regarding jaguars, Musters was correct, they are strong and can drag their prey long distances: one of them once dragged a horse 80 meters (88 yards) to a river, and then crossed it with its prey, others have seen a cow dragged one mile (1,6 km).[2]

He may have been mistaken about their geographic range because there had been jaguars in Patagonia, but they were probably extinct when he visited the area.

Seeking an answer to the riddle and having thrust aside the puma and the jaguar, Musters also discarded the aguará guazú (Chrysocyon brachyurus) or maned wolf, of which he had seen a hide in Carmen de Patagones at the end of his journey, because its habitat did not extend into Patagonia.[1]

Lacking other options he recalled Father Falkner’s Yaguarú,[3] a legendary creature which is not Patagonian but which may shed some light on the mysterious water tiger.

Thomas Falkner (1707-1784). English Jesuit priest who lived in what is now Argentina at several Jesuit missions in close contact with natives of different Patagonian tribes from 1730 until 1767 when the Spanish crown expelled the Jesuit order from South America. Upon returning to Britain (1774) he wrote his Description of Patagonia and the adjoining parts of South America[3] detailing his first hand knowledge on the region.


[1] Musters, G., (2007). Vida entre los Patagones: un año de excursiones desde el estrecho de Magallanes hasta el río Negro: 1869-1870. B. Aires: Continente-Pax.
pp. 104 and ff.
[2] Cabrera, A. and Yepes, J., (1960). Mamíferos sudamericanos. Mexico: Ediar S.A.
[3] Falkner, T., (2008). Descripción de Patagonia y de las partes adyacentes de la América meridional. B. Aires: Continente. pp. 83+

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

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