Another mysterious creature emerges from the mists of time in Brazil’s vast Amazonian rainforests! But there’s more mystery surrounding this cryptozoology puzzle than fact. Is this beast, the Mapinguari, a horrible monster worthy of the gaming world? Or just another misunderstood great ape, or giant sloth, or giant anteater …
I’ve done some research on supposed South American Bigfoots before and the one fact that is certain – there are more names for this (or these) creatures than one can possibly remember. So when I read about the Mapinguari, I was surprised to find that this may or may not be another iteration of a big hairy ape.
Another report I read stipulated that the Mapinguari is more like a giant ground sloth, not to be confused with the Mapinguary who was described as an “unknown hominid.” My head hurts!
So Mapinguary with a Y may be another Bigfoot cousin. But what about the other creature?
It seems that this beast, the Mapinguari (with an I), has been known for centuries, and its description can only be described as fantastical and downright crazy! Recent reports, though, sound more like a giant creature we may know in other parts of the world, more along the lines of the Mapinguary – the ape variety.
Old Legends versus the New
The folklore of the natives still living in the Brazilian rainforests describe the Mapinguari as being a large animal with one great eye and backward-facing feet. Its claws are very long and its skin resembled that of a caiman (related to alligators). Finally it had a second mouth on its belly, huge and menacing.
In more recent times (the last hundred years or so), the creature has been most often likened to a giant ape, but some say they see what seems to be a giant ground sloth from time to time.
Sloths tend to have long arms with claws at the end. It is said that when it stands on its hind legs it reaches seven feet tall. Its fur is thick, matted, and very stinky.
Witnesses said that the creature shrieks horribly and when they shot it with arrows and bullets, the tough skin wasn’t penetrated.
Though it’s been said that this creature is definitely a carnivore, it has never eaten a human.
I think it bears pointing out that Bigfoots have long arms (minus the claws), but their hair gets matted and very stinky too. I think it’s more likely that an ape relative would shriek as I’ve never heard or read of a sloth making any great noise. Researchers believe Bigfoot is an omnivore, eating whatever it can get.
The puzzling aspect is that the skin of the creature proved impenetrable to bullets and arrows. Perhaps the humans just missed?
Some researchers think the Mapinguari is just a very old legend from the days when people remembered the giant animals that used to live in the area. Giant ground sloths were alive at the same time early humans were in that area. In fact, scientists believe humans hunted them as a food source.
Others “narrow” it down to three possibilities: either the Mapinguari is a giant ape, or a giant sloth (i.e., Megatherium Mylodon) that survived to the present day, or perhaps even a giant anteater (i.e., Myrmecophaga tridactyla)!
Interestingly, giant sloths had ossicles, or little bony protrusions on their skin that made them very tough and protected them from predators. That lends credence to the report that arrows and bullets couldn’t penetrate the skin. (Photo right shows bony protuberances, ossicles, along the side of a Lake Sturgeon in modern times.)
Let’s see what science has to say about the extinct giant sloth and giant anteater and how they compare to the legend of the Mapinguari.
Fact from Fiction: Megatherium Mylodon
Some people think the Mapinguari is a species of Mylodon which was a giant ground sloth. It’s believed they reached 7- 9 feet tall when they stood on their hind legs and get this – their very large claws wrapped around under their feet when they stood upright giving the appearance that the feet were facing backward! The Mylodon could weigh up to 5 tons.
Some described it as looking like a big bear except its head was more like a horse’s head. The tail looked like that of a kangaroo.
The big difference between the purported scary Mapinguari and this known creature from the fossil era is that Mylodon was a vegetarian while the Mapinguari was/is a carnivore.
Science also knows that Mylodon was covered in “sandy red hair” and they know this because in 1895 a big piece of Mylodon skin was found in the “Mylodon Cave” (excavation site) of Chilean Patagonia. (Photo below right.)
As late as 1994, ornithologist David Oren reported that the Amazonian people were still reporting sightings of Mylodon in the deep rainforests of their country.
Scientists believe these giant sloths dug extremely large “burrows” in the ground because they found some with sloth bones on the burrow floor as well as evidence of their claw marks along the side of the “walls.”
So it seems they were interesting creatures, to be sure. But could they be alive today? So little is known about those rainforests that I’m going to give the giant ground sloths a fighting chance and say maybe. Scientists will tell you that all ground sloths went extinct thousands of years ago, possibly as a result of overhunting by humans, or possibly as a result of some climate change in the area.
Fact from Fiction: Megatherium Tridactyla
Giant anteaters are still alive today and known to science. They live anywhere from the southern parts of Belize down to the northern sections of Argentina. They are 5 -7 feet long but only weigh between 40 and 100 pounds. Their head is narrow, their eyes very small, and they have a really long nose, and a super long sticky tongue.
These animals have very poor vision but an awesome sense of smell. I guess that’s important when you’re routing around for ants and termites beneath the ground.
This is fascinating: the anteater has very large claws on its front paws that turn under when they walk. So here we have another animal that looks like its feet are on backwards walking around the Amazonian rainforests!
Anteaters are related to sloths. There are four species of anteaters and six of sloths in the order Pilosa.
But look at the pictures. They still look like very different animals and how anyone could confuse these mild grazers with some horrible monster is beyond me. Science reports that the anteaters will defend themselves from predators and use their big claws to do some damage, but that’s in defense. They aren’t particularly aggressive.
As far as I’m concerned there is no way the “giant” Megatherium tridactyla is behind the legend of the menacing Mapinguari. The only thing they have in common is those backward facing feet.
What is the Mapinguari or Mapinguary?
There are precious few accounts of this creature nowadays, but I was able to find an article in September 1999 Discover magazine called Beasts in the Mists by Marguerite Holloway that describes in more detail David Oren’s attempt to find the legendary Mapinguari. It’s a wonderful read if you have the time. Here’s the link:
In his book, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology by George M. Eberhart, he mentions several interesting encounters with this beast. Here’s a synopsis of those events:
1930: While on an adventure with ten friends, a man named Inocencio got separated from his friends. This was in Rio Uatuma, Para State, Brazil. As night came on he got into a tree to sleep and stay safe. He said he heard “loud cries” and they were being made by a black, “thickset” figure that resembled a man. He shot it, but the creature got away, trailing blood behind it.
1975: In Rio Jamauchim, south of Itaituba, Para State, Brazil, mine worker Mario Pereira de Souza reported seeing a Mapinguari at their mining camp. There was a great scream then the creature came running towards him on its back legs. He said the creature was unsteady on its feet and smelled horrible. De Souza was so traumatized by the event he said he has never set foot in the rainforest since.
1980s and 1990s: David Oren found fifty witnesses who claimed to have seen the Mapinguari. The group was comprised of Brazilian Indians, mine workers, and workers from the area rubber plantations. There were reportedly seven more men interviewed who claimed to have shot the animal at one time or another.
In the Rio Jurua Valley, a group of Kanamari Indians said they “raised two infant Mapinguaris on bananas and milk.” They released them back into the wild when they were around one or two years old because they smelled so bad the people couldn’t stand it anymore.
Late 1990s: Villagers along the Rio Purus, Amazonas State, Brazil, relocated their homes across the nearby river because someone had found Mapinguari tracks on the original side of the river. This case was reported by Marc van Roosmalen, a Dutch zoologist.
Based on my research, I think there might be a slim chance that the giant ground sloth is still alive and hiding in the deep Brazilian rainforests. If it is, I am sure it’s not the Mapinguari of legend. In the early 1970s, scientists found an “extinct” peccary in Paraguay – the Chacoan peccary, the third largest in South America, thought to have died out a few hundred years ago.
Many scientists travel the Amazon these days and one thing they all agree on is the ability of the dense, overgrown, pest-ridden forest to hide creatures and things. So why not some giant ground sloths?
The original description of the Mapinguari with the second mouth in its belly, one eye on its head – sounds like the stuff of nightmares and legend. I don’t think it exists other than in fantasy games and perhaps some novels. (One scientist, Dale Drinnon, thinks the orangutan might be behind this monstrous depiction – see photo, right.)
That said, I have a pretty good suspicion who the real culprit is though. In my opinion, the one who scares the people living and working in the remote rainforests is most likely a relative of Bigfoot, in this case Mapinguary with a Y.
Look at it this way, there is pretty good evidence that Bigfoot cousins exist around the world, from Asia to Russia to the USA. I’ve learned a few things recently that make me even more sure this is the case.
Anthropologists no longer consider the line of hominids on the “family tree” to be a straight line towards humanity. They see it more like a bush where various branches of hominids and apes branched off, most winding up at a dead end. That allows for a lot of variation within the species.
These scientists also believe that several species of hominid probably existed at the same time. For instance, remember when they thought Neanderthals had all died out before Homo Sapiens appeared on the scene? Now they know that’s not true and in fact, they’ve found some Neanderthal DNA in some human’s DNA!
My point is there probably were and are a lot of variations among hominids and who knows what else, hiding in the remote sections of the world. It’s frustrating to me that we can’t get to them and learn about them, but that day may come. It’s just going to take more research. And perhaps a bit of luck.
What do you think?