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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The ‘native’ Patagonian dogs


Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Patagonian natives had their own domestic dogs, which may have derived from a local species of canid. The remains of a rare prehistoric dog Canis (Dusicyon) avus have been found in southern Patagonian Paleo-Indian sites.

Avus is a big and wolf-like animal that shares several features with the warrah to which it was probably related. Maybe it was also connected to the mysterious Andean wolf.

FitzRoy's description. 1833.

The Aonikenk’s (Austral Southern Tehuelche) dogs of Avus origin were fierce; according to FitzRoy they had a “wild wolfish appearance [...] a wild wolf-like look”. They were also quite big, having the size of a large English fox-hound.[1]

Muster's description. 1869-1870.

Coinciding with FitzRoy, English explorer Musters noted during his 1869-1870 trip from Punta Arenas to Carmen de Patagones, that the ancient Aonikenk before they adopted the horse, “formerly hunted on foot, with a large sort of dog, which […] must have resembled a deer hound”.[2]

Scottish Deerhound. From [5]

Deer hounds are a very big Scottish breed similar to a rough-coated Greyhound but larger. They weigh up to 50 kg (110 lb.) and they are up to 80 cm high (32 in). They were used to hunt deer, so they had to be enormous.

Sarmiento de Gamboa's description. 1579.

The first European to come upon them was Sarmiento de Gamboa, during his expedition to explore and settle the Strait of Magellan in 1579.

He described these dogs as having a brindled coat, and bigger than Irish Wolfhounds. These are enormous dogs nearly 1 meter high (40 in.) and 70 kg (154 lb.) in weight. They were bred to hunt and kill wolves.

Notice the similar appearance of deerhound and wolfhound. Shaggy coat and big size.

He was shaken by the first encounter between his savage European war dogs and the local ones; he wrote about it in his journal:

It was noteworthy that our dogs, and those of the natives, flew at each other until the came within four paces, when they turned round without touching, and we could never get them to attack again.[3]

Irish wolfhound
Irish Wolfhound. They are very big dogs. From [4]

This was the first time that dogs separated by tens of thousands of years of separate evolution had bumped into each other. They probably found themselves very alien, totally different, and scary.

Note that the Spanish war dogs were vicious creatures, trained to attack, disembowel and kill natives, it is surprising that they cowed when confronted with the native dogs.

These Patagon dogs disappeared with their masters, the free roaming Tehuelche groups when Chile and Argentina occupied Southern Patagonia in the last decades of the XIXth century. They were replaced by sheep-dogs brought by European settlers who filled the Patagonian steppe with sheep farms soon after it was occupied and its natives assimilated.


[1] Hamilton Smith, J., (1840). The Natural History of dogs: Canidae or Genus Canis. London: W.H. Lizars. v.ii:213.
[2] Musters, C. Op Cit. pp.131.
[3] Sarmiento de Gamboa, P. Op. Cit. pp. 322.
[4] National Army Museum. Wolfhound, a mellow mascot.
[5] Deerhound Club. Official website.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beavers or the small northern monsters


The destructive effect of Beavers in Patagonia.

These Northern Hemisphere animals (Castor canadiensis) were introduced to Tierra del Fuego Island by the Argentine navy, to kick-start the local fur industry. It was a failure so some tender hearted navy man, instead of killing off the twenty five pairs of beavers, set them loose in the wilderness.

They expanded quickly and adapted marvelously to the new environment. Nowadays they number between 35 and 50 thousand, [1] and their territory occupies a large portion of Tierra del Fuego Island and several smaller ones in both Chile and Argentina.

To make matters worse, beavers have left Tierra del Fuego and colonized the southern tip of the continent at Brunswick Peninsula. The Chilean government is working hard to errdicate this foothold and to create a buffer zone on the Island.
If beavers manage to gain a firm hold on the mainland, the whole ecosystem of the Andean Forests will be at risk.[2]

The local forests made up mostly of Nothofagus (Southern Beech) have not co-evolved with beavers like the Northern Hemisphere's forests. They grow slowly and just can't keep up with the logging habits of beavers.

Furthermore, the guanaco feeds on the new saplings and the combination of flooded forests (beaver dams block the flow of rivers and flood the woods), tree foraging and slow growth / sapling destruction is taking its toll on the Fuegian forests.

Beaver at Tierra del Fuego
American Beaver at Tierra del Fuego. Copyright © 1992- 2009 by Alec Earnshaw. From [3]

Beavers, they can explain the monster at Lake Fagnano

Since beavers have spread along Lake Fagnano into Chile and it occupies the central part of their Fuegian habitat, they may help explain Fañanito, the lake creature that is said to live in it, and which has been described as follows:

[the] large head appeared suddenly and looked at him, and then submerged without leaving any trace. The man screamed, startling the people; the boat turned around but they did not see it again

For someone on a tourist excursion along the lake, a beaver head appearing on the surface would be a frightening experience. One that could easily be attributed to a lake cryptid.


[1] Lizarralde, M., Escobar, J. and Deferrari, G.Invader Species in Argentina: A review about the beaver (Castor canadiensis) Population Situation on Tierra del Fuego ecosystem.Interciencia Jul 2004. Vol. 29 pp. 356
[2] Parkes, J.; Paulson, J, Donlan, J.; Campbell, K. (2008). Control of North American beavers in Tierra del Fuego: feasibility of eradication and alternative management options. Landcare Research Contract Report LC0708/
[3] Photograph is copyright © by Alec Earnshaw, Fauna of Argentina, it has some beautiful photographs of the Fuegian Fauna.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Lake Maihue - Lake of the Week

lake of the week

It is located in Chile, (40°17’ S, 72° 01’ W) and has a surface area of 46km2 (17.7 sq. mi.), nestled in the western Andean slopes this lake is home to dwarves and strange lake animals.

At Rupumeica, right by the lake, the local Mapuche people tell of small beings which were once abundant; the “dwarves […] used to cross the roads, now there are none of those. They were surely exterminated!”[1]

Noisy, they used to frighten the sheep; these dwarfs were “small but thick […] we saw that man, a man with a blanket, small and wide […] there was an old poplar where the dwarves appeared”.[1]

Lake Animals

The lake also had some strange aquatic beasts that belonged to the “owner of the waters”; a mythical spirit that acted as a custodian of nature. In this case it was abuelito (grandfather) “wentellao” or “huenteao".

This spirit used to “give his animals to”, the “ancient” Indians. These were “lake animals” which the natives captured in the water with special lassos woven from rushes. Though abundant in the past, they eventually disappeared and the ancients “could not [lasso them] any more”, perhaps they had become extinct.[1]

This lasso method is similar to the one we mentioned at Maquehua, close to Temuco, Chile, where the locals lassoed water bulls.

A Beautiful photograph of Lake Maihue.


[1] Guerra, M., et al., [Comp.], (1999). Las Ñañas. Santiago: LOM Ed. pp. 36 and 53.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Native Pre-Hispanic Cattle in Patagonia?


Another post in my “All you ever wanted to know about” series. Today we will talk about native Patagonian cattle.

While posting on water bulls I wondered why would native American myths include a foreign creature such as a bull (Foreign, because cattle was, according to mainstream science, brought to America by its European discoverers after 1492).

Wouldn’t a boar or a deer, a tapir or even a jaguar make a better “lake monster”? Perhaps, but for some unknown reason, the myths are based on bulls, and that spells bovines.

I did some research on Patagonian cows (of the native variety), bulls, buffalo and bison, but the only reference that I have found was one about fake furs, in which the fancy trade name “Patagonian bison”, was given to the hair of a “short haired Chinese Sheep”. [28]

Evidently I had to do some deeper research. Today I will share my findings with you.

Piri Reis map and Patagonian horned animals. First European reference ca. 1513.

While discussing the Piri Reis map (in my post on Patagonian Unicorns), I mentioned two strange horned animals (shown in the images below), both of them are “cow-like” and definitively do not match any known native Patagonian animal that could have been sighted along Patagonia’s coastline in the early 1500s.

The map, has been dated to six years before Magellan’s official discovery (it was drawn in 1513). I was drawn by Turkish admiral and cartographer Piri Reis who compiled it based on information garnered from Portuguese sailors.[1][2]

It shows South American coast to a latitude beyond 50°S; a fact that, though disputed by some scholars, is taken as proof that Magellan was not the first European to sail along the Patagonian coast and that a covert Portuguese expedition had been there before him. The map shows some well known Patagonian animals such as deer -maybe the Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) or the huemul.

Cattle - Detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513) showing: Unicorn (top center), and puma (right). Unknown “cow-like” animal, bottom center.

From: [7]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

There are two strange animals drawn on the map, which do not correspond to any known Patagonian beasts:

One shown above, has a spotted hide with two long horns above its short ears, a fox-like tail, and two tusks like those of a wild boar.

Some have identified it with a llama, which is very unlikely since llamas lack both horns, tusks, spots or fox tails. Others believe that it is a medieval European mythical being, the Yale.

If bovid, it is a very strange specimen (no bovids have tusks or a fox tail), it looks rather “deer-like”.

The other unknown animal shown below (on the right) is described as “white-haired monster” and drawn with a long tail, deer-like head and body, slender legs, and two long backwardly curved horns.

Bovine animal - Detail Piri Reis map
Detail of Piri Reis World Map (1513) showing: the unknown bovid bottom right.
From: [3]. Piri Reis. The World Map. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum.

If it was cattle, it should be a native creature because no cows were brought into Southern South America until the mid 1530s (when the citiy of Buenos Aires was founded), and even then, they were at least 1,000 km (620 mi.) beyond Patagonia’s northern limit.

Piri Reis is therefore our first “Western” record on native Patagonian cattle. We will try to find if there are other sources mentioning horned animals in Patagonia.

Fuegian myths

One of the first person of European descent to be born in Tierra del Fuego was Lucas Bridges (1874-1949), developed a very close relationship with the native Selk’nam, and recorded one of their myth regarding a horned creature; the “Hachai”.

It was also known as Halahachish which, in their language meant “lichen covered rock”.

It was represented by the natives during their Hain initiation ceremonies.

Hachai was a “horned man” with “long sharp horns” spanning over one meter (3 ft.), his face was that of a short snouted cow; his fur was whitish. Note that it is not a deer (with antlers), but a bovine (with horns), furthermore, there are no deer (huemul) in Tierra del Fuego.

Father Gusinde, an anthropologist who witnessed a Hain ceremony in the 1920s, called him Halaháches, Kótaich or Kataix;[4] a powerful and mostly benign being, which protected men from the evil Xalpen, who backed off when he appeared. According to Gusinde, his body was white with red bands across it. [5]. American ethnologist Anne Chapman [8] added that the creature “ has a physical defect, a pot belly”.

Below is a photograph of Halaháches taken by Gusinde:

Kótaich or Halaháches.
From: [6] . Gusinde, M. (Archive-N° GU 24.13). Anthropos Institut St. Augustin.

Hachai was the most feared spiri of the Haint, the spirit of the dark cliffs; he was thick and walked slowly (a bovid feature). [7] Though he kept evil Xalpen at bay, he too could be a killer.

During the Hain, when Xalpen got out of hand, the women would chant its name to invoke its presence by singing Halaháches.

Click to hear a short audio clip of the Haláhaches chant, eery voices from the now dead Selk’nam people. [9]

Getting back to Halaháches, he had two sisters who were just as fierce as he was and though the natives swore that they had been chased by them in the forests, Lucas Bridges was quite certain that they lied to him and that Hachai, unlike Yosi, was not a real being, but a spirit. [5], [10]

Nevertheless he was intrigued because even though “in Tierra del Fuego there is no indigenous animal with horns” the pantomime of this horned being that he witnessed, done by a native named Talimeoat, “was perfect; yet Talimeoat was an old man who had never seen a domestic cow”.[5]

This is a very interesting comment and though we could argue that the Bridges family mission had cows, the myth is evidently a very ancient one, and predates the mission (set up in the late 1860s) by several thousand years.

A mysterious horned Fuegian fish

How could the Fuegians, who had been isolated in Tierra del Fuego for millennia, since the Strait of Magellan flooded at the end of the last Ice Age, have learned about a horned buffalo-like animal and its behavior?

Could there be indigenous horned animals in southern Patagonia? Had they survived extinction in Tiera del Fuego? Had Talimeoat seen them? Or were they a faint memory of bovids encountered in the distant days when Fuegians had crossed the world from Asia on their trek to Patagonia?

Anne Chapman believed that “The horns do not represent those of a stag or a bull as some authors assumed but rather a horned fish (háchai), a metamorphosed hoowin ancestor”.[8]

I don’t know what made her believe that. Perhaps the fact that there were no cattle in Patagonia and also, the existence of a Fuegian myth regarding horned fish.

Hoowin was a distant mythical era, when all those that inhabited the Earth were supernatural beings, powerful shamans. A period when animals and things had human behavior.

If Chapman is correct, our horned Hachai is a horned fish, a surviving being from ancient times. Could this be possible?

Horned Fish myths and tales.

1. Shai.

I have recorded two different horned “fish” stories, one is a Fuegian myth, that circulated among the Selk’nam. It told of a very fat yet agile hunter named Shai (which sound similar to Hachai), who “transformed into a hollow fish without scales, thick, with two horns on its head”.[11]

Personally I don’t believe that Shai and Hachai are the same creature, but I have no proof (yet).

2. Chiloé monster.

A similar horned monster was seen in northwestern Patagonia, in the sea by Chiloé Island, and recorded by historian Diego de Rosales in 1674:

[fish] as large as whales with two heads and one with the body of a small whale with a horrible head notably out of proportion with its body, armed with two long and sturdy horns; that on its back it had a wide eye. It was an enormous and stupendous beast.[12]

Stupendous indeed, a cyclops, horned small whale-like sea monster swimming beside a bi-cephalic whale. Maybe a tall tale. Or perhaps a story based on fact (horned animal seen in the sea9.

3. The water “Trauco”.

In previous posts, I have mentioned the dwarfish Trauco elf,. A creature that is not always depicted as a midget troll. It it has some local variations: for instance on Mount Quicavi on the eastern coast of Chiloé Island it is described as a dangerous goat with a long beard that has guanaco-like legs; its body is covered with scales and tufts of bristly hair.[13]

At other places within Chilo´ it is a sea creature “with the legs of a guanaco, fish tail, the [spiky] bristles of a sea urchin and two pointed horns”.[14]

Once again the horned “fish”.

These three varieties of horned sea creatures may actually be a terrestrial mammal taking a dip in the sea (such as a huemul). A horned aquatic beast is something unheard of by science, excluding the one horned narwahl that lives in the Arctic waters; there is no other animal with this feature. This fact makes me believe that these stories refer to a terrestrial bovine swimming in the Ocean.

More on the terrestrial horned being

During Magellan’s discovery voyage, at Patagonia, his chroncler, Antonio Pigafetta reported (1520) a horned monster when describing the native Patagon’s (in this case, they were Aonikenk) beliefs; he wrote that they “had seen devils with two horns on their head, and with long hair down to their feet, and through their mouth and backside they belched fire”.[15]

The flaming farts evoking those of the Bonaccon, a European mythical creature and the dragon-like fire belching are evidently an embellishment added by Pigafetta.

Perhaps they were inspired by Pigafetta’s Christian concept of the “Devil” (the red horned fallen angel).

Nevertheless, it may be (faintly) possible that the story is true, and that the core of the native’s belief may have been based on a real horned animal.
Ajchüm, the evil Tehuelche spirit.

We now know that the Aonikenk represented their leading divinity, Ajchüm as a horned red faced being, and that its counterpart among the Mapuche people, Elel, was also a horned “devil”. Perhaps it may have represented a real creature.

Ajchüm, was a female, the “leader of devils”.[17][18] and was the Aoniken’s equivalent to the monstrous Elengassen of the Northern Tehuelche natives.

Elengassen/ Ajchüm is intimately tied to the Aonikenk’s hero and demigod Elal.

He was the son of Teo, a cloud, and the enormous monster Nosjthej who raped her and later finding her pregnant tore her belly open to devour the baby. Fortunately Terr-werr, a field mouse who was Elal’s grandmother, saved the baby boy and hid him in her burrow.

Elal grew into a fine strong fellow who invented the bow and arrow, hunting, fire and cooking. All of which he taught to men, civilizing them in a Promethian manner. He thus assumed a leading role in their religion replacing Kooch, the creator of the Universe.

Getting back to Ajchüm, she was a fearful humanoid monster, that being divine, was revered and propitiated during the Aonikenk initiation rites of their pubescent girls, where it was personified by a shaman wearing a big horned hat with its face painted red, who presided over the ceremony.[16]


In the late 1700s, Spanish Jesuit priest Herv´s wrote that the Mapuche’s “balichu [sic] means evil spirit: elel prince of the devils”. He noted that it was represented by a “devil’s mask” worn by the leader of the dances.[19]

Note the devil’s mask and the homophone name “elel”= Elal, virtually identical to the Tehuleche’s myth and legendary being.

This relationship between demons and horns, may be the reason for the aversion that Patagonian natives had for bulls. This fear was recorded by French naturalist Alcides D’Orbigny, who interviewed Tehuelches in the late 1820s.

He wrote that “the Patagons [i.e. Aonikenk] of the most southern zones also fear bulls”. .[20] Also because the Northern Tehuelche feard them too.

These natives were not afraid of our European bulls, but of the living memory of the native American bulls that haunted their ancestors.

New. Oct. 18, 2010. I posted on a comment by Francis Fletcher published after Drake's 1577 voyage around the world. It is about "horned" demon-like Tehuelche natives:Patagonian devils or cattle?.

I have mentioned in my post on lake bulls the special word for cow used by the Tehuelche :

Teushen (Boreal Southern Tehuelche): ch’oi or choji
Aonikenk (Austral Southern Tehuelche): tr’oi or chói
the Gennakenk or Northern Tehuelche: treye or treyie
Unlike the Mapuche word, huaca which is very similar to the Spanish one vaca, the Tehuelche word is totally different sounding like troy.

In my opinion this shows that the Tehuelche groups on the eastern side of the Andes in the steppe area of Patagonia had a pre-Hispanic word for cow probably associated to a local bovid.

Buffalo at Port Desire

After Piri Reis, the next reference to these creatures came from Oliver van Noort at Puerto Deseado (Port Desire), on the arid Atlantic shore, who in 1598 “found beasts like stags and buffaloes”.[21]

The stags are evidently guanaco, but what were the buffalo? Did he see a big cow-like being and thought it was a buffalo? Could it be the animal that inspired Ajchüm?

It may be possible that he saw bovines, of the cow type: Spaniards had introduced cattle into the Pampas in the mid 1500s, and by 1598, they could have expanded their range into Patagonia.

More evidence: Patagonian sheep and cows.

1. Survivors from a shipwreck.

We also have other clues regarding horned animals in the region which may offer an explanation to this mystery.

Chilean social scientist, Ricardo Latcham noted that one of the ships of the Bishop of Plasencia’s fleet to the East Indies that disappeared without a trace in the Strait of Magellan in 1540, carried “asses or mules and also lesser cattle like sheep and goats”.[22]

We are positive that some sheep may have survived because they were reported by Ladrillero during his (1557) expedition to the Strait of Magellan (“there are sheep and guanacos, and deer” that in winter hide in the mountains).[23]

Latcham was also persuaded that Plasencia’s sheep somehow managed to survive and were later hunted by the natives of the Pampas. To support this, he uncovered a Spanish document dated 1586 mentioning an area just north of Patagonia, where:

many ‘sheep of the country’ [name that the Spaniards gave the llama] like those that in Perú […] and that they also use other animals that are said to be larger than those sheep and that have their horns with their tips curved backwards which this witness guesses must be buffalo and that they say that the males are black and the females white and that they have soft wool. [22]

It is clear that these animals are neither llama nor guanaco (which lack horns).

The buffalo comparison is remarkable, and may be on the mark. Notice that they are woolly (like the American bison – more on bison later).

Latcham however believed that they were sheep. Perhaps he was mistaken; they cannot be sheep because they are horned and larger than a llama, which would make them cow sized – too large for sheep.

In my opinion, they appear to be some kind of wooly buffalo.

2. FitsRoy’s testimony.

In 1833, English Captain FitzRoy noted that at Madre de Dios Islands in southern Chile (50°18’ S, 75°07’ W) “one of the men of this tribe [Chono], seeing two long powder-horns on board the Adeona, placed them to his head and made a noise like the bellowing of cattle”.[24]

Evidently this canoe Indian had seen a cow-like beast on the western Andean coast. A place that was thousands of kilometers from the nearest Spanish establishment. It would have been a very long trek through a rough and broken terrain or a dangerous voyage in the Chono’s open canoes.

It is very likely that the man had never seen domestic cattle at a Spanish settlement. It is highly probable that he had seen some other kind of creature. Perhaps our Patagonian cattle.

Nevertheless, it may be probable that these animals reported by Latcham and FitzRoy could have been cows that survived de Plasencia’s shipwreck and evolved a long coat like the feral cattle at Los Glaciares National Park. We dono’t know if Plasencia’s fleet carried cows. But it may have.

Even so, they can't explain Pigafetta’s comment (1520), because the Bishop’s ships sank twenty years after (1540) he wrote about the horned demons.

This leaves the door open to some yet unknown (or now extinct) local horned Patagonian animal. Interestingly, the Alakaluf rock art preserved a depiction of a horned being, which some archaeologists believe may be Kawtcho. Thus, Kawtcho is a horned being.

Pre-Hispanic Cattle in America?

There are bovids in America, in North America. The well known “buffalo” of Buffalo Bill fame, the American Bison (Bison bison).

They and their Old world relative (Bison bonasus) are bovines, closely related to cattle, which can measure up to 3 m long, 1,9 m at its shoulder and weigh between 450 and 1350 kg.

However they seem to have not expanded beyond Mexico.

The other native American bovid is the Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus)), which despite being a bovid, and looking like a cow, is not a bovine. It is actually a member of the caprinae sub-family and is therefore closer to sheep and goats. It lives in the Arctic areas and we are positive that it never pushed south towards South America.

Both bisons and musk oxen are the real native American cattle and both are restricted to North America. But, did they, in prehistoric times expand their habitat southwards?

During the early days of Spanish conquest, the chroniclers reported native cattle such as the “vacas corcovadas” (hump backed cows) at Quivira, a mythical city which the Spaniards placed in western North America. [25]

They also mention a similar animal at another mythical city, the Cibola bulls.

The appearance of both creatures is strikingly similar to that of the American bison, so it is likely that they are just bisons.

American bison
American Bison. Engraving. Thevet. From [26].

What does science say?

In Central America in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, very close to South America, a paper clearly states that American bison could have coexisted in some refugia with the Amerindians in Central America until as recently as 150 A.D.” [27].

Furthermore, “there are isolated reports of the presence of bovids in South America: the Colombibos atactodentus in Colombia (Hernándeez & Porta, 1960[*]) and the Platatherium in Argentina (Hoffstetter, 1971[**])” [27]

The paper cites these two articles:
[*] Hernándeez & Porta, (1960). Un nuevo Bóvido Pleistocénico de Colombia: Colombibos atactedentus. Bol. Geol., Bucaramanga, 5:41-52
[**] Hoffstetter, (1971). Los vertebrados Cenozoicos de Colombia: yacimientos, faunas, problemas planteados. Geol. Colombiana, 8:37-61,

It also mentions the sightings of cibola in Guatemala (a name that the Spaniards gave the bison).[27]

Finally, unlike its relatives from the Great Plains, the article suggests that the evidence tindicates the existence of small and isolated populations of bisons adapted to the forest and forested lands [27]. This would have allowed it to expand via the Amazon forests south into South America.

Regarding the Platatherium I have found only one reference to it, in the original paper by Ameghino and Gervais, which is described as a great ruminant.[29]

No other papers mention cattle or bovids in South America.

This may be due to the paucity of fossil records, the lack of research or, that there simply were no South American bovids.

Closing comment.

There is a very “cow looking” animal on the map that French King Henry II ordered to be drawn in the mid 1550s.[30]

I have not been able to find which is the map, but the image published with the article (I copy it below), shows a cow-like being beside a peccary.

Detail of Henry II Map ca. 1555 showing "cattle" (bottom) and peccary (?) (top). From: [30].

It may be the native variety of cattle (why would a cartographer draw a cow on a map? He would have drawn some exciting kind of animal), but not knowing in which part of America it was placed, I can’t be sure if it is a South American “bull”.

To summarize:

   1. There are native myths involving horned beings in Patagonia. The natives had a specific word for “cow”, different to the Spanish one.
   2. The first reports by Western explorers in the XVIth century reported buffalo or horned creatures in Patagonia.
   3. Though not an othodox scientific belief, there is evidence that bison may have entered South America during the Holocene.

What was the fate of this “cattle”, did they die out? are they surviving hidden in the Andean forests?


[1] Leman Yolaç and Ayşe Afetinan, (1954). Life and Works of the Turkish Admiral Piri Reis: The Oldest Map of America. Ankara. pp. 28-34.
[2] Dutch, S., (1997). Online.
[3] Piri Reis. The World Map (1513) [Map]. Library of Topkapi Palace Museum. No. H. 1824.
[4] Gusinde, M., (1951). Hombres primitivos en la tierra del fuego: de investigador a compañero de tribu. Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos de Sevilla. pp. 304-5.
[5] Bridges, L., (2008). Op. Cit. pp. 400 and 407-408.
[6] Gusinde, M., (1923). Espíritu de Halaháches en el Hain. [Photograph] (Archive-N° GU 24.13). Anthropos Institut St. Augustin.
[7] Gallardo, C., (1910). Los Onas. B. Aires: Cabaut. pp. 332.
[8] Chapman, A., (1982). Drama and power in a hunting society: the Selk'nam of Tierra del Fuego. CUP. pp. 144.
[9] Interpreted by Lola Kiepja. Compiled by Anee Chapman. Selk'nam chants of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. [recording], descriptive notes and translations of texts by Anne Chapman ; cantometric analysis by Alan Lomax. New York, U.S.A. : Folkways, 1972-1977. Song 25. Vol. 2, record 2, side A, track 5.
[10] Bridges, L., (1935). Supersticiones de los Onas. La Argentina Austral, Año VII, N° 73. pp. 33.
[11] Canclini, A., (2007). Op. Cit. pp. 92.
[12] de Rosales, D. Op.Cit. v. 1 pp. 308-309.
[13] Barrio, J. El Diccionario de Mitos y Leyendas. Online.
[14] Housse, E., (1939). Une epopee indienne: les Araucans du Chili; histoire... Paris: Lib. Plon. pp. 150.
[15] Pigafetta, A. Op. Cit. pp. 16.
[16] Mordo, C., (2001). La Herencia Olvidada Arte indígena de la Argentina. B. Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Artes. pp. 33.
[17] Baleta, M., (2002). Cuentan Los Chonkes - Leyendas de la Patagonia Tehuelche. B. Aires: Zagier & Urruty. pp. 27.
[18] Prieto, A., (1992). Arte Primitivo. Fuentes Decorativas, Punta Arenas. Año 3. N° 32. 05-1992.
[19] Hervás y Panduro, L., (1800). Catálogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas: Y numeracion, Division, y clases de estas segun la diversidad de sus idiomas y dialectos. Ranz, 1800. v.1. pp 133.
[20] D’Orbigny, A. Op. Cit. pp. 326 - 327.
[21] Galt, J., (1844). All the Voyages Round the World: From the First by Magellan… to that of Freycinet… New York: W. Colyer. pp. 52.
[22] Latcham, R., (1929). La Leyenda de los Césares Su origen y su evolución. Santiago: Impr. Cervantes. pp. 208, 225 and 250.
[23] Anuario Hidrográfico de la Marina de Chile, (1880). Op. Cit. pp. 501.
[24] FitzRoy, R., (1839). Op. Cit. v. ii. pp. 195.
[25] López de Gómara, (1852). Historiadores primitivos de Indias. Madrid: Rivadeneyra. V. 1. pp. 288-289. Online:

[26] Thevet, A. Singularitez. Pp. 148. Online
[27] Alvarado, G., Spencer, L.and Gónez, L., (2008). Evidencias Directas e Indirectas sobre la probable coexistencia de bisontes y el ser humano en Centroam´rica durante el Holoceno. Revista Geológica de América Central, 39: 53-64.
[28] Henderson, Junius and Craig, Elberta, (1932) Economic Mammalogy. Springfield: C. Thomas. pp. 53 Online
[29] Ameghino, F., and Gervais, H. (1881). Les mammifer̀es fossiles de l'Amerique du Sud. pp.31
[30] Cardoso, A., (1915). El fabuloso ‘su’ o ‘succarath’ y los primitivos retratos de los didelfidos. Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Buenos Aires
t.27. pp. 438-439. Online.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bringing back the Auroch from extinction


Auroch descendant
Modern cattle in France that descends from the Auroch. From [1]

Aurochs, the extinct wild European cattle. A very interesting article that I read today, written by Stephan Faris (Breeding Ancient Cattle Back from Extinction) tells about a project to bring them back from extinction.

Aurochs were very big bovids, over 1,80 m (6 ft.) tall at the shoulder and weighed more than one ton. They ran wild until the end of the Middle Ages, when over-hunting and habitat destruction drove them to extinction.

The last one of them died in 1627 in a Polish nature reserve.

Scientists aret trying to bring it back from the list of extinct species. If they succeed, it will be the first animal to be brought back from the dead.

Read the full article on line at Time Magazine’s website.


[1] Stephan Faris Breeding Ancient Cattle Back from Extinction. 12.02.2010. Time Magazine.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Lake Bulls" or "Water Bulls"


Lake bulls or “water bulls” have been seen and reported in many Patagonian lakes. They are aquatic bovids and as such, are quite different from the other cryptids mentioned in previous posts (i.e. the snake-like culebrón and flying snake and the ray-like cuero or the slender hariy guruvilu). Water bulls are bulky, sturdy, aggressive and obviously bull-like beings.

Today I will bore you to tears with Everything that you ever wanted to know about Patagonian lake bulls.

lake bull stamp
Lake Bull stamp. Copyright © 2009 by Austin Whittall

Why bulls?

They are known as bulls, not pigs or goats or llama. Why?

They are described as bulls; in some cases they are also called as cows. But either way, they are bovines (like the run of the mill domestic cattle).

The fact that they are described as bovines means that their appearance must be strikingly similar to that of a cow or a bull. (Would you call a long necked cryptid a “lake hippo”? or would you call it a “lake giraffe”? I think that you’d call it what it resembled most, i.e. giraffe).

That is why I believe that the “water bulls” look a lot like bulls.

Bull, what makes something look like one?

Within the order Artiodactyla is the family Bovidae, this family includes many species such as goats, sheep, buffalo, cattle and antelopes.

Bovidae differ from the other artiodactyls (such as deer) because they have horns.

Horns are a key feature that allows anyone to tag an animal as a bull or a cow (even toddlers can do that).

If the natives have “water bulls”, then be sure that they have horns.

Horns are a bony nucleus surrounded by a keratin sheath. They are unlike deer horns because they are never shed and they do not branch, they keep on growing during the animal’s life.[1]
All male bovids (i.e. bulls) have horns (and about two-thirds of the species have horned females –i.e. cows).

Within the Bovidae is a subfamily, the Bovinae whose members vary in size from the Gaur (Bos gaurus, which can measure 2.2 m high at its shoulder and 3 m long, (7.2 and 9,8 ft. respectively) it can weigh up to 1,000 kg (2,204 lb.) to the tiny Vechur cow which has a maximum height of a 91 cm (3 ft.) and weighs on an average 107 kg. (236 lb.). [2]

Finally we have the Bovini tribe, which comprises the domestic cattle, the yak and domestic buffalo, the American bison and the African buffalo. All of them, except the American buffalo, are Old World animals.

The American bovids are recent arrivals in the New World, having crossed the Bering land bridge between Asia and America about three million years ago. They never expanded their range into South America.

Cows and bulls (domestic bovines) were brought to America by Europeans after its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Nevertheless, I have researched on the possible existence of South American bovids in pre-Hispanic times and I have made some interesting discoveries. I will post about them later, next week.

Comment: We can conclude the following

   - No endemic bovids in South America or Patagonia.
   - Cattle introduced into America by Spaniards after 1492.
   - Bovids have horns. This is a feature that characterizes them.
   - Bovids can be very big or very small. Size is not uniform.

Lake Bulls, a global myth

Bulls have been integrated into myths of people all around the world, from the Cretan Minotaur to the Biblical Golden Calf and the ancient Egyptian’s Apis. The Greeks named a constellation after it (Taurus), which is relevant to those who believe in astrology

The heathen Northern Europeans had a “water bull” that can also be found in the British Isles; it is a hornless bull, smaller than a regular cow, which “associates with domestic cattle” improving its stock and dairy yield. [3] We will see that in this (its relationship with cattle) it is similar to its counterpart in the Andean Puna region of South America. Read my previous post on the Scottish “water bull”.

It should not surprise us that bovids were incorporated into the North American native’s myths such as the Lakota’s “White Buffalo woman” [4], after all, there were buffalo in North America.

What is surprising however is that they appear in South American myths since there were no “native” bovids there. There are two possible explanations for this apparent anomaly:

 1.South American bull myths originated After Spanish conquest. The natives, confronted for the first time with an angry bull would very quickly assign it mythical or supernatural status. Domestic cattle would be a marvel to them. And a bull impregnating cows a clear symbol of power and fertility.

 2.There was some kind of cryptid South American cattle. Which the Indians knew about and had incorporated into their lore. Cattle which is now extinct.

I must admit that option "1" sounds more probable.

A list of lakes where “lake bulls” have been seen

Lake Caviahue (37°52’ S, 71°02’ W). Located in northwestern Neuquén, it is a small horse-shoe shaped lake, with a surface area of only 10 km2 (4 sq. mi.) It was a sacred place for the Mapuche natives, and according to Argentine folklorist Gregorio Alvarez, in the lake there were:

animals that should not have been there, like threatening bulls and horses […] [5]

Lake and Creek at Aucapan (39°38’ S, 71°17’ W). A small pond, it is home to the “Huaca Mamül”, a cow-like creature, whose name in Mapudungun (the language of the Mapuche natives) means “cow stick” (“huaca” = cow and “mamül” = stick).

The creature is said to bellow like a cow with a sharp and explosive “Aaaa…”; it is described as a “live stick” (palo vivo in Spanish) which is found “in the middle of the forests between Aucapan and Chile, in a tiny hidden lake”.[8]

The living stick is not some kind of magic piece of wood or log, it is named so in a metaphorical manner because it buoys in the lakes just like a drifting log, but it is alive, and stands upright moving at will and it destroys all that come near it.

Close by, at Aucapan Creek, there is a pool, which the locals avoid because “cow heads” are seen surfacing in it.[8] Perhaps both creatures are the same one.

Lake Huechulafquen (39°46' S, 71°23' W). Just south of Aucapan. Is home to a creature that Alvarez describes casually mentions among several other strange animals which he calls zoomorphs. This animal is the "cow at Lake Huechulafquen".[9]

Unfortunately Alvarez gives no description of the beast and I have not been able to find any other articles or books mentioning this creature.

Lake Lolog (40°01’ S, 71° 26’ W). Located on the eastern side of the Andes and surrounded by forests. It flows east through the Quilquihue River into the Chimehuin River which in turn drains into the Atlantic via the Limay and Negro rivers. It is connected upstream through the Chimehuin river to Aucapan and Huechulafquen.

In 1960 a local named Sabino Cárdenas reported that “animals appear” in the lake, looking like “a cow [that surfaces]” however, if pursued “it sinks into the lake”.[10] This same creature is described as a "gigantic cow that is sometimes seen swimming in [the lake]".[11]

Bertha Kossler Ilg, describes it as a “marine bull”, a “giant bull that harms cows” it mated with them but they gave birth to “very deformed animals, some with six, others with eight legs”.[21]

Interestingly, “at night it came ashore to eat the good grass”[21]. A grazing lake bull!.

Lake Lacar (40°10’ S, 71°25’ W). A few kilometers south of Lolog. At Quila Quina on its southern shore, Mrs. Teodora del Carmen, saw in 1952 a strange amphibious animal on the beach by her home:

a bull with golden horns appears at night. He goes out and runs in the water. A loud noise can be heard when he is frolicking. He roars and makes a lot of noise […] my husband saw it. He said it was a black animal. It does not have hoofs like cows; it has its feet like those of a goose. It does not leave marks on the beach because it does not leave the water.[12]

At this same place, Mrs. Yolanda Curruhuinca, wife of the Mapuche Tribal leader Abel Curruhuinca, swore that she saw a “fish with the head of a bull with golden horns”; once she witnessed a clash between “a little water bull fighting a land bull”.[13]

Comment: Water and land indicate two categories of bulls based on their habitat. Does the “fish” part of the description mean “fish-like” of does it mean “aquatic”?.

Lake Rosario also Laguna del Toro Negro (Lake of the black bull). (43°16’ S, 71°20’ W). Set on the edge of the steppe its shores are surrounded by ñire forests and with the mighty Andes are its backstage.

The local natives tell an ancient tale about a fierce black bull that lived by the lake that killed the son of an Indian chief who had tried to hunt it. The grieving chief in turn killed the bull, which, even dead, can often be heard howling and “seen swimming in the lake”.[14]

Another version says that the lake was formed when a White Bull one night, furious, pounded a water spring with its hoofs”. In this version the howling being is not the bull, but the spirit of the dead Indian.[20]

Lake Foitzick (45°38’ S, 72°05’ W). In the Aisén region, in southern Chile close to the town of Coihaique . It is home to “The Bull of the Silver horns [that] bellows”.[15] The lake’s shore is full of rushes and surrounded by swampy ground. It is quite deep and may be an extinct volcanic crater. It lies beyond the forests, in the steppe.

Lake La Plata (44°52’ S, 71°48’ W). It is located well inside the Argentine Andean forests.

Here, local people “saw animals coming out of the lake” but when they tried to approach them, “they rushed and back into the lake again”. At night they heard “horses neighing, bulls bellowing and all kinds of animals bleating in the lake”.(bold font mine).

They were frightened because these “lake animals want[ed] to take” their cattle into the lake.[16]

Comment: This “affinity” between lake bulls and cattle is a behavior that is observed in Europe, and, as I will mention later, also seen in South America.

Lake Cisnes (48°25’ S, 72°39’ W). Lies just north of the Southern Continental Ice Field beside Chilean Lake O’Higgins (San Martín in Argentina).

It is home to the “Animal in Lago Cisnes”, described as having the upper half of a cow, and its bottom part, of a black colored horse. “In another version, the animal is half cow (above) and half water animal (bottom)”.[17]

An eye witness named Ernesto Bahamondez noticed on a day that the lake was very calm, that “something dived into the water […] the front part was like a cow, the rest was a water animal, a fish […] it also walked on the lake” – perhaps meaning that it swam".[18]

Comment: Once again the “fish” element is present in this creature (see Lake Lacar above).

Lake el Toro (Bull Lake) (45°31'S, 71°51'W). This is a very small lake, roughly circular in shape, about 800 m (0.5 mi.) in diameter. It is set on the steppe, about 22 km east of Coyhaique (14 mi.) towards the Argentine border

Here, Wilson Aguilar tells us a story dating back to the 1930s about a mythical black bull. At the time, some cowhands were camped by the lakeside but they were awakened in the middle of the night by a large wave that surged in the lake. From this wave appeared a:

formidable bull that scared away the herd with its immense horns, it was of a never before seen black color […] a group of cows as if hypnotized followed the bull towards the middle of the lake [and drowned] [19]

A few years later at the same sport the bull reappeared, mounted a cow impregnating her. When the time came for the cow to calve, she gave birth to a “calf that did not have legs but some beautiful fins; it was so small that it could not even reach the udder to feed [and died]”.[19]

Comment: Surfaces from the water, has supernatural power over the cattle. Mates with them but produces nonviable offspring (different species?). It also has a very aggressive behavior. This may not be a lake bull but something else, some other kind of cryptid.

These lakes, are outside of the "historic" Mapuche territory, now we will look into the Northwestern sightings of “lake bulls”, within their original homeland.

Lake Bulls in Northern Patagonia, in the Chilean Mapuche homeland

Temuco area (38º41’ S, 72º25’ W). This town which straddles the Cautin river, is very close to several sites where water bulls have been reported:

1. Perquenco. This town is just 16 km (10 mi.) north of Temuco, and it is located on the Quillén River (no relation whatsoever to the Argentine river of the same name) which is part of the Imperial River basin. Here the “Mapuche speak about the existence of a ‘water bull’ whose appearance is the usual one for these animals, but that instead of living on ground it lives in the water”[23]

3. Maquehua. Just a few kilometers west of Temuco, Tomás Guevara mentions that here, at Melivilu [*] :

Once a bull came out of a lagoon. Two Mapuche lassoed it […] took it home, killed it. They cooked its meat. When they went to see it, it was still red; they made a bigger fire [and it did not cook] This scared them so they went to throw it back in the lake. They met another bull and lassoed it [but could not eat its meat] [24]

They concluded that “water animals cannot be caught and when they are caught, their meat cannot be eaten] [24].

[*] This same place has been mentioned in our previous post on the guruvilu the “snake-fox”. )

To the north, along Patagonia’s northern edge, Bio Bio River, there was another “water bull” sighitng at:

Estanillán Lagoon (37°39' S, 72°01' W). This body of water is quite close to Quilaco, and is home to a “water bull that is captured with the help of a wizard and his assistants: witch dogs”. [22]

In this case the animal has a supernatural aura and it took a wizard to capture it.

Coincidentially, Quilaco is just across the Bio-Bio River from the town of Santa Bárbara, where, in 1914, a strange reptilian-like water creature was reported.

The Inca link. A possible clue to the water bull myth

Illa or Ylla is an ancient myth of Andean (i.e. Inca, Peruvian) origin, it was recorded by the Spaniards as having a sacred meaning, and formed part of their words for light and lightning.

Spanish priest González Holguín, recorded it in his Quechua language vocabulary (1608) as “Ylla […] all that is ancient of many years and secluded” [25]

This coincides with the meaning assigned to the word by the Puna natives according to
Peruvian ethnographer and writer José María Arguedas: [26]

the bulls that live in the bottom of the lonely lakes are illas, in the high lagoons surrounded by bull rushes.[…]

The cultural flow promoted by the Inca empire, as it expanded south into what now are Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, spread the concept.

It is still found in the Bolivian and Argentine Puna region where it is found as the myth of the “Toro Illa” in Argentina’s northernmost province of Jujuy –closest to the myth’s place of origin, and further south, as the “Toro Aspas / Astas de oro” (Bull with golden horns) in Catamarca Province.

The Jujuy version has it as a bull with golden horns that protects the cattle. It lives in the mountains or in a lagoon (bold font mine), it gathers the cows around it by the lagoon and is a benign being. It kills rustlers and multiplies the herd. [27]

Argentine Folklorist Bertha Vidal de Battini, noted that “When it appears, the cattle gathers close to a lagoon” (bold font mine). [28]

In the province of Santiago del Estero, the Toro Supay or Toro Diablo (Devil bull) also has a golden horn, it is gigantic yet, it also protects the herd. [27]

Notice the recurring "golden horn" motiff which is identical to the Lake Lacar bull, which also has golden horns. Coincidence or cultural flow from Inca to Mapuche?

We see in these Inca and northern Argentine myths a very close relationship between the bull figure, the lake habitat and the bond between normal / regular cattle and this supernatural bull. And these elements are strikingly similar to those found in the cases mentioned in Patagonia (i.e Lake Toro and La Plata). This may also indicate that the Mapuche myth has an Inca origin.

If this was so, it wasn't the only myth they absorbed from the Inca, for instance, I believe that the "flying snake" was also acquired from the Inca.

Mapuche: Bulls and the supernatural

Within the Mapuche homeland outside of Patagonia, the lake bull appears again, but with magic, almost religious connotations. In this it is different from the Patagonian animal which is much more mundane:

Well beyond northern Patagonia, close to Santiago, Chile’s capital city, is another lake with a bull:

Laguna del Toro (30°00'11"S, 70°22'23"W). This is a rugged mountainous area, and the lake is at 3.232 m altitude (10,600 ft.), it is quite close to the Argentine border and in a very arid region close in Los Andes, by the Blanco River:

There is a bull whose roars can be heard only one night a year [29]

This is evidently a magic bull (its “once a year” concerto indicate that), furthermore, its location is within the range of the Inca occupation of Chile, by the “Inca Road” that crossed the Andes into Mendoza through Uspallata.

Nahueltoro (36°29’S, 71°46’W). This place is also outside of Patagonia, about 120 km (75 mi.) north of its border along the Bio-Bio River.

Set beside the Ñuble River, its name is the combination of the Mapuche word nahuel = jaguar and the Spanish word toro = bull, and alludes to a native myth: the puma-bull with formidable golden horns […] More than one [native] chief believed he incarnated the strength and war power of these two animals and named himself after them. That is why there are references of an Indian chief named Nahueltoro whose domains coincide with this site[30]

Chilean folklorist Orestes Plath adds that it was a bull, (not a water bull) with golden horns. [31

These non aquatic bulls may also be related to other myths such as Lobo Toro, or if they aren't, they definitively refer to another animal.

Feral (wild) cattle

Laguna del Toro. (40°45’S, 72°18’W) [33]. At Osorrno, well inside the Chilean Patagonian lake district is this small lake. It was the territory of a wild bull of the “regular” (i.e. not a water bull) kind. It was a bagual or feral animal.

In his myth, we see that the Mapuche could distinguish one kind of creature from the other. [32]

Feral Cattle, could offer an explanation to the myth, because they 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”.[34]

I have already posted on Patagonia's wild cattle so I won't write about them here, however it seems clear that they were distinct from the "water bulls".

Etymology of the word

Etymology is the study of words, of how their form and meaning originated and evolved over time. It is interesting to notice what words were used by the natives to name cattle / cows. It can give us a clue to whether the animal was “local” or a late arrival (i.e. brought from Spain): [35]

(For more info, see my Map and summary on Patagonian natives)

Mapuche Chile: ofisa
Mapuche (Puelche): ovissa
Spanish: Oveja
Teushen (Boreal Southern Tehuelche): ssáa
Aonikenk (Austral Southern Tehuelche): - - -
English meaning: Sheep

Mapuche Chile: kawellu, kawell
Mapuche (Puelche): cahuellu
Teushen (Boreal Southern Tehuelche): ká:wul
Aonikenk (Austral Southern Tehuelche): kawul
Spanish: Caballo
English meaning: Horse

The two examples given above clearly point out that horses and sheep were foreign. The native name is a good reproduction of the sound of the Spanish name.

However, when it comes to cows the situation is different:

Mapuche Chile: waka
Mapuche (Puelche): huacá
Teushen (Boreal Southern Tehuelche): ch’oi or choji
Aonikenk (Austral Southern Tehuelche): tr’oi or chói
Spanish: Vaca
English meaning: Cow

The Mapuche word is very similar to the Spanish one, but the Tehuelche word is totally different. Furthermore, the Gennakenk or Northern Tehuelche had an even more difficult word for cow: Treye or Treyie. [36]

In my opinion this shows that the Tehuelche groups on the eastern side of the Andes in the steppe area of Patagonia had a pre-Hispanic word for cow probably associated to a local bovid: native pre-hispanic cattle. (More on this in future posts).

A Mapuche myth that migrated into Patagonia

The myth is definitively a Mapuche myth as I have not found any references of Tehuelche myths involving bulls or cows.

The following map will help me show you how I believe the "water bull" myth expanded into Patagonia.

 lake bull water bull Patagonia
Lake bull or water bull. Map showing distribution of sightings.
Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

The sites where "water bulls" have been reported are marked with red dots.

In the upper right corner, just south of the Bio-Bio River and around Temuco, is the core of the Mapuche territory. Here they held out against Spanish dominion between the mid 1600s and the 1880s. The myth, of Inca origin, filtered into this area and from here moved across the Andes where the local Pehuenche and Manzanero people in Neuquén absorbed it together with the Mapuche language during their "Araucanization" process in the 1700s. The violet circle shows the main base of the Manzanero Indians before their defeat by the Argentine Army in between 1879 and 1884.

The remaining natives moved south into Chubut where they finally settled around 1905 in Nahuel Pan (green circle). However they were evicted from there in 1937 and many roamed across Patagonia, working as laborers on the sheep farms. Many settled around Lake Rosario (blue circle), where, unsurprisingly a "water bull" has been reported.

The myth, hand in hand with the laborers, moved into the Chilean sheep farms around Coyhaique (orange shade on the map) and from there along the southern Route 5 to its souther terminus at Villa O'Higgins.

The map clearly shows that there have been no sightings outside of these areas in eastern Patagonia, the land of the Tehuelche, which supports my contention that the myth is a Mapuche one.

Summary and closing comments

We have two kinds of bulls in Patagonia, the Wild / feral / Bagual bulls, which are just cattle ran wild in the forest. They may be mean and dangerous but they are not cryptids.

Then there is the Water Bull which is found across Patagonia, from its Southern tip to its northern reaches.

Beyond Patagonia, in the central part of Chile, where the Mapuche had their original homeland before the Spanish Conquest, we have a magical Bull, which has evident Inca religious significance, this was perhaps imported during the XVth Inca invasion of Chile. A similar myth is found on the Argentine side of the Andes, all the way up to the Puna (all within the former Inca empire's territory).

The mystery remains. Its origin

Was the myth a pre-Hispanic myth inspired by a yet unknown Andean cryptid and then was passed on to the Mapuche by the Inca? or was it formed in the former Inca empire after the Spanish conquest once they introduced cattle into America and then moved on towards Chile?

Was the myth inspired by some unknown creature in the Inca times and then was assigned to the newly arrived European bull?

Was there a local Patagonian bovid?

These questions will remain unanswered for now. My next post will address the "horned" cryptid issue, in other words, a "native Patagonian cow".


[1] Bies, L. A., and Myers, P., Horns and antlers University of Michigan.
[2] P K Uthaman. World’s smallest cow rescued from extinction
[3] Eberhart, G., (2002). Op. Cit. pp. 580.
[4] Leeming, D., A., Page, J., (1996). Goddess: myths of the female divine. Oxford University Press US, pp. 36. 199
[5] Alvarez, G., (1968). El Tronco de Oro. Neuquen: Pehuén. pp. 116 -7.
[8] Fernández, C., (1995). Cuentan Los Mapuches. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Nuevo Siglo. pp. 75+
[9] Alvarez, G., Op. Cit. pp. 114.
[10] Fernández, C., (1995). Op. Cit. pp. 44.
[11] Rojas, R., (1925). Literatura Argentina: Ensayo filosóofico sobre la evolución de la cultura en el plata. Librería la facultad. pp. 94.
[12] Fernandez, C., (1995). Op. Cit. pp. 74.
[13] Totha, J., (2007). El paraíso queda en Quila Quina. La Nación. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 18.03.2007.
[14] Fernández, C., Op. Cit. pp. 70.
[15] Mansilla Contreras, J., (2008). Los Compañeros en una Tierra Solitaria. Diario el Divisadero. Coyhaique, Chile. 15.01.2008.
[16] Vidal de Battini, B. E., (1980). Cuentos y leyendas populares de la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Culturales Argentinas v.7. pp. 307.
[17] Mansilla Contreras, J., (2007). Relatos Orales Aisensinos. Diario el Divisadero, Coyhaique, Chile. 16.10.2007.
[18] Villa O'Higgins Expediciones. Villa O'Higgins. Aysén, Chile. Historias Patagónicas. Online.
[19] Corporación de Defensa de la flora y fauna (CODEF) y Corporación de Desarrollo de Aysén (CODESA), (2000). Testimonio de Wilson Aguilar, de Villa Cerro Castillo. Relatos de antiguos pobladores de Cerro Castillo. Municipalidad de Río Ibáñez.
[20] Fiore, J., and de Vera, G., (2002) Trevelín: un pueblo en los tiempos del molino. Municipalidad de Trevelín. pp. 92.
[21] Kossler-Ilg, B., and Foerster, R. (2006). Cuenta el pueblo mapuche: Cuentos y fábulsas. MN Editorial. pp.23.
[22] Kuramochi, Y., (1997). Cultura Mapuche: relatos, rituales y ceremonias. pp. 253.
[23] Aguirre, Sonia., (2003). Mitos de Chile: diccionario de seres, magias y encantos Random House Mondadori. pp. 416. Online:

[24] Guevara, T., Psicolojía del pueblo araucano pp. 333.

[25] González Holguín. (1608). Vocabulario de la Lengua General de todo el Perú llamada Lengua Qquichua o del Inca.
[26] Arguedas, J., M., 81983) [1941] Yawar Fiesta. In: Obras completas. 69-227. Lima: Ed. Horizonte, t. II.
[27] Colombres, A., Seres Mitológicos Argentinos. Op. Cit. pp.264.
[28] Vidal de Battini Berta Elena, (1984). Cuentos y leyendas populares de la Argentina.Ediciones Culturales Argentinas. v. 8. pp. 893.
[29] Aguirre, Sonia. Op. Cit. pp. 274.
[30] Mitos y Leyendas del Antiguo Coihueco (Vol.4).
[31] Plath, O., Geografía del mito y la leyenda chilenos. El toro de Nahueltoro
[32] Ibidiem. Provincia de Osorno. La Laguna del Toro. pp. 280.
[33] Online
[34] Prichard, H. Op. Cit. pp. 239.
[35] Dictionaries by; Barbará, F., De Augusta, F., Casamiquela, R. Op.Cit.
[36] Claraz, J. (1988). Diario de viaje de exploración al Chubut, 1865-1866. Buenos Aires: Marymar. pp. 151.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A non Patagonian Lake Bull in Scotland


Doing some research on Patagonian Water bulls for my next post (part of my "All you ever wanted to know about..." series) on these creatures, I came across an interesting (for my European readers) reference that mentions them in Scotland:

It is a clip from Vol.3 of Popular Tales of the West Highlands: Orally Collected by John Francis Campbell, Ed.Edmonston and Douglas, 1862. pp. 328.

He also mentions Loch Ness (Nessie fans take note).

Regarding the Patagonian lake bulls they have been reported in many lakes, and I am trying to put together a comprehensive report on the subject. It will take a few days but it will be posted here soon!.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Patagonian forests, the home for its cryptids


In this post of my 2010 Biodiversity series on Patagonia I will mention the forest, Patagonia's amazingly beautiful woods. it is the place where Patagonian dwarves, ogres, trolls, and most of its lake creatures live. It is however an endangered habitat.

Unique forests

The Patagonian forests are one of the World’s five most important temperate forests and it is the only one in South America.

Nearly one third of the World’s “untouched” temperate forest is in Patagonia. [1]

It is a unique forest because it is totally isolated from the other South American temperate forests and jungles by at least 1,500 km of arid terrain (I have called this the arid gap).

This isolation is comparable to that of an island. There is no exchange between the Patagonian forest and other South American forests.

For this reason, most of its species are endemic (they are only found there and nowhere else in the world), relict of an era when they belonged to a larger forested area.

It extends along both sides of the Andes, from 35°S to 56°S, and from the Pacific Ocean to the western border of the Patagonian steppe. The forest is a long and narrow band running along the Chilean-Argentine border.

Its surface is about 7.2 million hectares in Chile and another 2.6 million in Argentina, that is 9.8 million hectares or 98,000 km2 (38,000 sq. mi.), which may seem small, but is actually larger than Portugal or Austria.

However, since the arrival of Europeans, the forests have been shrinking constantly. The part that has been worst hit, is in Chile, north of Chiloé Island and south of the Bio-Bio river. It is a densely populated area and forests have been cut to turn the area into fields for grazing and farm land.

Patagonia Forest coverage
Current and Historic (pre-1550 AD) Forest Coverage in Patagonia .
Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall. [3]


Introduction of foreign species such as Ponderosa Pine (pinus ponderosa), Oregon Pine ( Pseudotsuga menziesii ) and Murrayana Pine (pinus contorta) which grow faster and displace the local slower growing trees is a serious threat to the native species.

A study has shown that the Murrayana pine expands along the steppe while the Oregon pine is displacing the arid woodlands dominated by a native conifer “Ciprés” (Austrocedrus chilensis). [2]

In Chile the paper and pulp industry has promoted the planting of these pines, while in Argentina their hardiness have led to them being planted along the steppe, where there is less rainfall. They can also be found in urban and suburban areas surrounding the Andean towns, where they propagate quickly.

Last but not least, sawmills have reduced forests outside of the protected areas within Patagonia.

One of these logging projects, Trillium, in Tierra del Fuego, was to cut down a very large area of Lenga forest. The Chilean Supreme Court ended it in 1997 but it refused to die [4]. For full details on this unsustainable project read about it at this (external link) site [5].

The company they established in Argentina, Lenga Patagonia S.A., still appears as a member of the Asociación Forestal Argentina (Argentine Forestry Association) [6] but its web domain has lapsed and belongs to someone else.

The story ends well (in Chile): Goldman Sachs acquired Trillium in 2002 and after taking into account the public opinion's opposition to the logging project, donated it to Wildlife Conservation Society, an NGO based in New York, US. I am not sure about what happened to Trillium's Argentine affiliate.

Fortunately, most of the National Parks in both countries protect the forested areas as can be seen in the following map (blue shade indicates National Parks).

Patagonian National Parks
Patagonia National Parks . Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall.


[1] Greenpeace. (2004). Patagonia Chilena. ¿Crónica de una muerte anunciada? Santiago. Online. pp. 14.
[2] Rusch, Verónica, Schilter, Tomá and Ghersa, Claudio, (2006) Invasión de coníferas forestales en áreas de estepa y bosques de ciprés de la cordillera en la Región Andino Patagónica. Ecol. austral v.16 n.2 Córdoba jul./dic. 2006.
[3] The map showing current and historical distribution of the Patagonian Forest is a composite. I took information from several sources and blended them into the map:
   - Enciclopedia de la Flora Chilena. Matorral y Bosque Patagónico.
   - Resumen Vision para la biodiversidad de la ecorregion de los bosques templados lluviosos de Chile y Argentina. Doc. No. 1. WWF Chile.
   - WWF. A lovely map which I have not been able to locate after I downloaded it over a year ago. Visit WWF Chile Online. Their map is the part above the red line on my map.
[4] Online.
[5] Chilean Forest Preservation and the Project River Condor.
[6] Quienes la Integran. Asociacion Forestal Argentina.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Sea Serpent" caught on Video


swimming oarfish
Sea Serpent-like Oarfish, caught on Video.
Click Here to see the article and the video.
Copyright © 2010 by BBC. From [1]

This post is dedicated to all those who believe in sea serpents!
Yes, today I read an article online at the BBC's website, in which they report that a giant deep sea fish was caught on video by scientists. They filmed an Orfish (Regalecus glesne), which can measure up to 17 m (56 ft.) long.

Oarfish are not seen very often on the surface, and if so, it is in their death throes or dead and washed up on the shore.

Sea Serpent: oarfish may be the clue to the myth

Profesor Mark Benfield from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA, using a remotely operated vehicle caught a glimpse of a “Sea Serpent” (coincidentially, the research project was named Serpent< Project) in deep waters.

I quote the article below:

Their strange appearance may have provided the basis for the sea serpent myths told by early ocean travellers.
Not only are they elongated, they also have a prominent dorsal fin which gives it an unusual "serpent" appearance. […]
"What was interesting about the fish was its swimming behaviour," said Professor Benfield.
"It moved by undulating its dorsal fin in waves that propelled it backwards at quite a good speed."
Early estimates measure the fish at between 5 m and 10 m in length. [1]

Oarfish that washed ashore on a Bermuda beach in 1860.

I am skeptical about sea serpents and have posted three times about them, once regarding one seen in the River Plate and another time regarding Joselito, a sea serpent at Necochea. Neither of them in Patagonia.

My third post was about a sea serpent in the Strait of Magellan, in Patagonia and in very cold waters.

Oarfish are found in temperate waters around the world, do they frequent Argentina's Patagonian coast or the Strait of Magellan? If they did, they could account for these sighting.

To find some clues, I did some googling, and came up with the following paper [2]:

Oarfish in Patagonia?

It provides new information on oarfish from the Argentina Trench (Southwestern Atlantic), below I quote from the abstract:

This study considered [...] characteristics of the distribution of three rare fish species [...] recently discovered in the southwestern Atlantic: [...] tropical Regalecus glesne [Oarfish][...], known by rare catches in temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere. [...] R. glesne [i.e. Oarfish] penetrate to the south with the vortices of the warm Brazilian current down to 48° S[...] [2]

If so, then they are tropical fish that are dragged south by the Brazilian sea current and it could be possible for someone to sight them along Argentina's Patagonian coast (and also its Buenos Aires coastline -where Necochea and the River Plate are).

Further reading on this strange fish:

- NOAA (photo and a Palau stamp).
- Australian Museum.


- Oarfish-Sea Sepent, on YouTube:


[1] Bourton, Jody. BBC. Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico. Online. 08.02.2010.
[2] Trunov, I., Kukuev, E., (2005). New Data on Fish of the Family Trachipteridae and Regalecidae (Trachipteroidei) from the Argentina Trench (Southwestern Atlantic). Journal of Ichtyology. V. 45. NO. 3. 03-04/2005. pp. 223-228

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©
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