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, July 15, 2010

Saapaim - The Fuegian sloth

The Saapaim is a strange creature, that was reported as living in Tierra del Fuego by Anglican missionary Thomas Bridges in the 1860s. He took over the Mission at Ushuaia bay, which is nowadays the capital of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego. Although I have already posted about it, (Mysterious Fuegian creature: Saapaim), I came across the original source of Bridge's report.

Below is the text where the creature is mentioned: [1]

Thomas'son, Lucas, had a different opinion: [2]

Lucs said it was a coipo, which is an animal that resembles both a beaver and an otter.


[1] Bridges, T. (1869). Fireland and its people. The South American Missionary Magazine. Vol III. July, 1, 1869. pp. 113.
[2] Bridges, L. (1947). Uttermost part of the earth. Dutton. pp. 447.

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hairy ape man at Guaitecas Islands, Chile

Magdalena Island
Magdalena Island, Chile. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

In a previous post on Patagonian dwarfs at Taitao Peninsula, I mentioned a sighting there by a Chilean sailor in the late 1940s which may indicate that hominids were alive in the region at the time. Today I found an interesting story (totally hearsay, and lacking evidence) which I translate below, regarding an island (Magdalena), which is located just to the north of Taitao:

Anonymous wrote...

Myth or not, a few days ago I heard a story which perplexed me, because, at least in Chile I had not heard about any previous records on this kind of stories
[about the Yeti].

A person pointed out an old local person, that does not know anything about bigfoot or the yeti, because it is an area where not even the radio waves can be tuned, that some forty years ago, they landed on one of the largest islands in the area, Magdalena Island in the Guaitecas islands (thousands of islands, many of them untouched).

The surprise was to se "sitting on a rock a tall hairy man, that resembled a monkey, the dogs barked at it, and the man or monkey... I do not know what it could be ..." he tells ... "went towards the forest".

Strange story isn't it? especially from an old man, that has little or no information on these subjects.

The Place

Roughly three quarters of Magdalena Island (44°40′S, 73°10′W) is a Chilean National Park, but there is no personnel there and very few visitors enter the park. The island is covered by the dense Valdivian rain forest, and the 6 km wide caldera of the Mentolat volcano (1.660 m - 5,442 ft.) is permanently covered with ice and snow.

The island is placed on the eastern side of Moraleda channel and has a surface area of 2.585 km2 (998 sq.mi.). Jacaf channel runs between the island and mainland.

This was the land of the now extinct Chono natives, boatmen who lived along the beaches, fishing, collecting clams or hunting seals. By the late 1700s, they had disappeared.

Perhaps their (now lost) myths told about strange wild men that lived in the forests.

A variety of Yeti or snowman has been also reported in the Andes just north of Patagonia.


[1] Cagliani, M. Blog. Mundo Neandertal. El Yeti ¿quién es le culpable detrás del mito? 12.12.07

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

Lake Paimun creature

lake paimun
Map of Lake Paimun Area. Austin Whittall

Lake Paimun is actually the northern arm of Lake Huechulafquen (which is the abode of the Huechulito lake creature), it is also close Aucapan (which is haunted by another monster).

With a surface area of 29.2 km2 (11.3 sq. mi.) it has a roughly semi-circular shape; it is 14 km (8.7 mi.) long and not more than 2 km (1.2 mi.) wide. A calm, deep lake, with a spectacular view of Lanín volcano.

Its name, in Mapuche language means "lacking love". It derives from the words Pay, the familiar and tender word that children use to name their mothers or older women that should be respected or loved; and the word mun, which means to need, to deserve. Hence, Paimun = orphan, who needs a mother, lacking love.[4]

A rather strange name for a lake!

Paimun (39°43'S, 71°35'W) joins Lake Huechulafquen at the Angostura Pichi Cuyín (Small Apple Narrows), which is partly filled in by landslides along the valley of the Rucu Leufu River, which is fed by the glaciers on the Lanín Volcano (3.776 m - 12,380 ft.). These landslides must have provoked tsunamis in the lakes and severe flooding.[1]

Trelque the "Cuero" of Lake Paimun.

According to local folklorist, Gregorio Alvarez, this tiny lake is said to be the home of a "lake genie" or Trelque. This creature lived in the deep waters of Paimun and stalked the women who came close to its shores.

Trelque is the Mapuche word for "hide" (in Spanish = Cuero)[3]; and I have written about the cuero in previous posts. However, it seems to me that this particular Trelque is not the usual kind of cuero.

The local myth, as told by Alvarez, is the following:

One day, while a young girl named Huala, was filling her flask by the lake, "a claw suddenly emerged from the shore and grabbed her firmly, dragging her to the deepest part of a pool [...] Huala, like so many others, had been submerged by the so called "cuero".[2]

Huala was taken by Trelque to a cave in the deepest part of a sheer cliff, and there she saw the decapitated remains of other victims of this monster.[2]

The story then goes on to tell that Trelque morphed into a handsome man and told Huala that he was in love with her, and that he would not kill her. As she wanted to go back to her home, he used his magic powers to keep her close but happy: he turned her into an aquatic bird, the Huala.

It is interesting to note that the Trelque creature, unlike the regular variety of Cuero, lived in a cave and out of the water, indicating an amphibious being. This is not a stingray, it is another kind of monster.


[1] Mancino, C., (2007). Thesis. Online
[2] Alvarez, G. (1969). Donde estuvo el Paraiso. Ed. Pehuén. pp. 167-169.
[3] Augusta, F., (1916). Diccionario Araucano - Español y Español - Araucano. Santiago. Impr. Universitaria. pp. 94.
[4] San Martín, F., (1919). Neuquén. Impr. Rodríguez Giles.

Lea este post en español

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

Update on Japan and its "scientific" whaling

On May 31, 2010, Australia, which is Japan’s major trading partner, took the issue of Japanese whale hunting to court.

It filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice, in The Hague because years diplomatic efforts have led nowhere.

The issue is that Japan continues to kill whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which is an area dedicated to the preservation of global whale populations.

Japan claims that its whaling is done for scientific purposes and therefore is exempted by the International Whaling Commission article VIII, which allows killing whales for scientific studies.

Australia says that this barbaric killing is just a loophole that they have found in the IWCs bylaws to continue killing whales on a commercial basis disguised as scientific research.

On July 9, 2010, Japan deported a New Zealand activist , Peter Bethune aged 45, convicted of assault and obstruction after he clambered aboard a Japanese whaler in an attempt to stop the annual Japanese whale hunt.

Last February, Bethune, forcibly boarded the ship in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean and was detained aboard the ship and arrested when it returned to Japan. There, a court of law sentenced him to two years, but suspended the sentence.

Bethune was convicted of several offenses such as throwing bottles of rancid butter at the Japanese ships, trespassing, vandalism and, in my opinion the clincher, possession of a knife, which he used to slash a net that had been placed around the vessel.

Violence is not the solution, whaling should be stopped, but not with violence.

In the meantime, the 62nd annual meeting of the IWC took place at Agadir, Morocco, but it ended without reaching a consensus on a 10-year peace plan. So, despite the official statement by the IWC that: "The Commission […] noted that the intense work over the last two years had led to increased understanding of the different views held and an improved atmosphere of trust. It agreed to a pause in its work on this topic to allow time for reflection until the 2011 Annual Meeting".

During the meeting, delegates of IWC had been discussing whether to maintain a 24-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling or to allow the three countries (Japan, Norway and Iceland) to resume commercial whaling but at significantly lower levels and under tight monitoring.

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

Monday, July 12, 2010

Marine Ground Sloths

marine sloth
Marine sloth. From: [4]

A very interesting yet unknown fact about the sloth family is that there was an amphibious sloth!

The first creature of this sea-going sloth group, discovered in the late 1970s, was named Thalassocnus natans [1] , which means “slow-swimmer of the sea” (thalassos is Greek for “sea”, ocnos for “slow”, and natans is Latin for “swimming”).

We now know that there were at least five of these swimming sloths that lived along the Peruvian sea coast between 6 and 1.5 Million years ago. This was a surprising discovery because all known sloths until then, were terrestrial.
They probabily started out as beach-combing animals and then evolved into sea-going beings that waded or swam into the Pacific Ocean where they fed on algae and other sea plants.

Thalassocnus had a series of features such as the ability to move its tail up and down as an aid in swimming, the way otters do.

Another species of this group known as T. yaucensis had evolved into a creature that resembled the sea lion.

It had evolved well to adapt to its marine environment, its jaws grew longer and slimmer in comparison to its terrestrial relatives, perhaps to allow it to graze on the kelp with slender jaws and strong lips while it grasped the seabed with its claws.

The later species have less dental erosion (striae) on their teeth than the older ones, which may indicate less sand (which caused these grooves in their teeth enamel) in their diet, and therefore, that they swam further away from the shore to feed.

The dry coastline which offered little food may have driven these sloths to the sea, where marine plants grew in abundance.[2]

An interesting question is whether it had a fur (like seals or sea going otters) or was it “naked” like whales and sirenids. Perhaps it shed the thick fur of the ground sloths for a lighter pelt. It may have also developed a thick layer of fat under its skin.

Marine sloths and Patagonian lake monsters

No marine sloth remains have been found in Patagonia or in southern or central Chile, so we can not state that extant members of this group may have originated the myths regarding Patagonian lake monsters.

However, it would not be too far fetched to believe that they expanded southwards, along the Pacific rim, towards Southern Chile.

There they could have continued their evolution, and even become fresh water creatures.

These may have later, (after the Ice Ages) colonized the newly formed Patagonian lakes originating the "lake monster" myths in Patagonia.

Of course, all of the above is speculation and has no backing whatsoever. But it is an interesting thought. Perhaps one day marine sloth remains may be uncovered in the region.

For those interested in the science details of the "real" Peruvian marine sloth, you should read Muzion’s paper to which a link is given below [3].


[1] Muizon, C. de & McDonald, H. G. (1995). An aquatic sloth from the Pliocene of Peru. Nature 375, 224-227. Cited in: Ten things you didn't know about sloths. 30.01.07. Darren Naish. Tetrapodzoology.
[2] The Giant Swimming Sloths of South America. 07.02.07. Brian Switek. Laelaps.
[3] Christian de Muzion, H. Gregory McDonald, Rodolfo Salas, and Mario Urbina,(2004). The youngest species of the aquatic sloth thalassocnus and a reassessment of the relationships of the nothrothere sloths (mammalia: xenarthra). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24(2):387–397, June 2004 q 2004 by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
[4] Image source:

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

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mylodon burrows in Patagonia?

paleo burrow
Paleo-Burrow. From [1].

Professor Dr. Heinrich Theodor Frank of the Instituto de Geociencias, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul [1], drew my attention to a very interesting subject, Giant sloth burrows.

Dr. Frank studies the very interesting field of "paleo-burrows", that is, the caves dug by ancient and now extinct creatures.

His specialty are the Giant Sloth tunnels of which he has found many, though most belong to extinct giant armadillos, some are too large to have been dug out by them, and must have been excavated by giant sloths.

These tunnels are impressive, some are over 2 m (6.5 ft.) wide, 1.5 m (5 ft.) high and up to 30 m (100 ft.) long.

He and his team have discovered many paleo-tunnels (paleotocas in Portuguese)in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Some paleo-burrows have been reported in Argentina, in the Pampa region.

However, none have been reported in Patagonia, which was home to the mylodon (see my post on the mylodon saga).

One may believe that an animal as large as a mylodon could not be a burrower, in fact, there are no modern examples of burrowing mammals the size of a mylodon.
The largest living fossorial (burrow digging) creature is the aardvark, which weighs about 90 kg (200 lbs.). The mylodontidae on the other hand weighed up to 1200 kg ( 2,650 lbs.).

Argentine sloth burrows

These have survived until our days and even display claw marks on their walls [3][4]. The size of these claw marks indicate that they were not made by any of the large armadillos that lived in the area during the last Ice Age. They were made by ground sloths.

Frenguelli even found a skeleton of a sloth (Scelidotherium) within a burrow filled by volcanic ash.

Sloth remains (including dung) have been found in several caves in Chile and Argentina (not dug by them) which they must have used as shelters. These are located in the Andean area such as Cuchillo Curá or Cueva del Indio in Argentina or the famous Mylodon Cave in Chile.

But, for those giant sloths living on the flat plains of the Pampas, without trees or hills, their only shelter to avoid predation by carnivores would have been to "dig in" and burrow underground.

They may also have used them for protection against the extreme heat in summer, cold in winter and as a means to reduce their need for water; they may have even hibernated inside their burrows.

The sites of the known paleo-burrows in Argentina, are clay cliffs by the sea coast (Mar del Plata and Miramar)[5] or by a river (San Pedro).

Patagonian burrows?

If there are any burrows in Patagonia, where would we expect to find them? Sloths lived in an environment very similar to what is now found in Patagonia: an arid steppe. There is evidence (from their dung) that they browsed on the same plants that can still be seen growing in Patagonia:

In addition to the dominance of grasses in the late glacial sample, the major difference between late glacial and modern vegetation is the absence of Larrea, a dominant shrub at the site today.[...] The pollen, plant cuticle, and chloroplast DNA analyses indicate that [...] sloths were feeding on plants similar to those that occur today at Cuchillo Cura´, and that they were living in Patagonian scrub-steppe. The slightly different proportions of the plant taxa, showing higher amounts of grasses,
suggest climatic conditions perhaps slightly cooler than the present.

Their habitat was the grassy steppe. Perhaps their range did not extend across the arid stretches or the basaltic lava flows that cover some parts of Patagonia.

They would have surely lived in the Patagonian River Valleys, such as those of the Colorado, Negro, Neuquén, Limay, Chubut, Santa Cruz, Deseado rivers. These valley's abrupt walls (known as bardas) would have provided an easy access to the under-soil for burrowing.

Though most of Patagonia is covered by a layer of gravel which may conceal many of these burrows, they must surely be there, waiting to be discovered.


[1] Paleo-burrows Project. Rio Grande do Sul University.
[2] Hofreiter M., Betancourt J.L., Sbriller A.P., Markgraf V., McDonald H.G. (2003). Phylogeny, diet, and habitat of an extinct ground sloth from Cuchillo Curá, Neuquén Province, southwest Argentina. Quaternary Research, 59 (3), pp. 364-378.
[3] Frenguelli, J. (1928). Observaciones geologicas en la region costanera sur de la Provincia de Buenos Aires. Universdad Nacional del Litoral, Facultad de Ciencias de la Educacion, Anales 3: 101-130.
[4] Vizcaino, S.F., Zarate, M., Bargo, M.S., and Dondas, A. (2001). Pleistocene burrows in the Mar del Plarta area. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 46: 289-301.
[5] Alejandro Dondasa, Federico I. Islab, and José L. Carballido, (2009). Paleocaves exhumed from the Miramar Formation (Ensenadan Stage-age, Pleistocene), Mar del Plata, Argentina Quaternary International Volume 210, Issues 1-2, 1 December 2009, Pages 44-50.

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

Monday, July 5, 2010

El Cuero at Lake Futalaufquen

map of Los Alerces National Park
Map of the "Los Alerces" National Park. Lake Futalaufquen is in the middle of the map, to the right; a lake with three long arms.

Futalaufquen, whose name in the language of the Mapuche natives means "Big Lake", is located in the Argentine province of Chubut, at 515 m (1,688 ft.) above sea level.

Lake Futalaufquen (42°50'S, 71°38'W) is a large lake, it has a surface area of 44.6 km2 (17.2 sq.mi.) and is 168 m (550 ft.) deep [1].

It drains into the South Pacific Ocean through the Futaleufú River (in Mapuche language: Big River) and is part of the Los Alerces National Park.

This area was first settled in the late 1880s by explorers which came from the Welsh colony (yes, in 1865 a group of Welsh came to Patagonia sponsored by the Argentine government, and set up an agricultural colony on the lower Chubut river).

It is a lovely area, deep inside the Andean mountains, which comprises the lush forests (protected by the National Park), and a relatively fertile area on the edge of the Patagonian steppe, a transition zone which was the area chosen by the Welsh to establish their colony and the two towns of Esquel and Trevelin.

Futalaufquen is quite close to Lakes Rosario and Esquel where "lake creatures" have also been reported).

El Cuero

A recent book by Medrano, Susana de los Angeles [2] compiles local tales and stories of some of the pioneers who settled by Lake Futalaufquen. Among them is Mrs. Norberta Garcés de Braese, who spoke about the "Cuero del lago" (lake hide) skeptically:

"I never saw it, I can not say anything [about it]. But therea re people who say that they have seen it... It is a thing like this, wide, like one of those giant rays. But they always say that they could see the upper part, its back... They say that they have seen it a lot over there, where Rosales de butcher lives. And also further away, at the other Rosales, of Mindo...[2]

Interesting experience, and, (see my post on the cuero) the only account that I have found that compares the creature to a sting ray.


[1] Sistema Nacional de Información Hídrica. Información General, Lago: Futalaufquen.
[2] Medrano, Susana de los Angeles, (2005). Voces del Futalaufquen: historias de vida de los pobladores del Parque Nacional "Los Alerces". Fondo Editorial Provincial, Secretaría de Cultura de la Provincia del Chubut. pp. 121.

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