Herewith a second selection of mystery beasts, including some rarely-documented examples, from the ‘Green Hell’ of South America’s jungles and inland waters.
IN SEARCH OF THE MAPINGUARY
IN SEARCH OF THE MAPINGUARY
For a number of years, Brazilian zoologist Dr David Oren, from the Goeldi Museum, has led expeditions into the dense jungle heartland of the Mato Grosso in search of an extraordinary mystery beast known to the local Indians as the mapinguary. According to their description, it is covered in reddish fur, stands as tall as an average adult human when squatting on its hind legs, leaves peculiar footprints that look as if they are back-to-front and other, equally strange bottletop-shaped impressions, emits a loud shouting cry, defecates horse-like droppings, and is claimed to be invulnerable to bullets. Rather more bizarrely, they also claim that it gives off a foul, lethal stench to ward away would-be attackers, and has a second mouth in its stomach! Despite its grotesque-sounding appearance, Oren is confident that although he has yet to observe a specimen, he has at least determined the mapinguary's identity - stating that he believes it to be a surviving species of mylodontid ground sloth.
Officially deemed to have become extinct several thousand years ago, various mummified specimens have been discovered in sealed-away caves. These reveal that they did indeed have red fur, feet that could leave footprints which may appear reversed to anyone unfamiliar with ground sloth foot structure, and a powerful tail whose tip, if used for support while squatting upright, could yield the strange bottletop prints. Moreover, preserved mylodontid faecal pellets that do resemble those of horses have also been found, as have preserved mylodontid pelts, which contain bony nodules that may actually deflect bullets and other missiles. As for the mapinguary's stench emission and stomach-sited 'second mouth': Oren proposes that a specialised scent gland may be present on the mapinguary's belly, releasing a vile skunk-like gaseous odour as a defence mechanism. If the mapinguary is indeed revealed one day to be a living ground sloth, it may well comprise the largest species of mammal native to South America - and hence a major cryptozoological success story.
LAKE TITICACA'S MYSTERY BEAST
One of South America's least-known creatures of cryptozoology is the enigmatic water beast reported from Peru's mighty Lake Titicaca in 1910 by Adolph F. Bandelier, within his book The Islands of Titicaca and Koati. According to Bandelier, a 12-ft-long animal variously said to resemble a manatee or a seal has been sighted near the islands of Tiquina and Titicaca, and also close to the peninsulas of Tiquina and Copacavana, in Lake Titicaca. As yet, however, no formal verification of its existence, let alone its identity, has been forthcoming.
THE CHACO'S DEADLY SLUG-SNAKE
Equally obscure is the formidable mystery beast reported from the Paraguayan Chaco region in 1954 within the autobiography of Charles W.T. Craig, entitled Black Jack's Spurs. The locals claim that this weird-sounding creature resembles a slug-like serpent, but sports the head of a dog, a poisonous barbed spike in its stumpy tail, and is as broad as a horse. Veteran cryptozologist Dr Bernard Heuvelmans opined in 1986 that it could be a form of giant catfish known to the locals as the manguruyu. Moreover, they claim that this fish can grow up to 18 ft long and weigh up to half a ton, but such gargantuan sizes have never been scientifically verified.
GUMS! - IDENTIFYING FAWCETT'S GIANT TOOTHLESS RIVER SHARK
According to Lt.-Col. Fawcett, the Paraguay River contains "...a freshwater shark, huge but toothless, said to attack men and swallow them whole if it gets a chance". However, very few shark species inhabit freshwater, and those that do are well supplied with teeth. Consequently, not all cryptozoologists who accept Fawcett's statement believe this creature to be a shark. British investigator Mike Grayson, for instance, has suggested that it may in reality be a sturgeon, some species of which do bear a very superficial resemblance to sharks and can attain a huge size. Having said that, as Grayson readily concedes, sturgeons normally do not attack and eat people (but perhaps this component of the report is based upon local superstition?). However, there is also a zoogeographical problem with this identity, inasmuch as there is not a single known species of sturgeon native to South America.
My own view is that if such a creature exists and is not a real shark, it may conceivably be a giant catfish. There are more catfish species in South America than anywhere else, and some of these are also among the world's largest. Moreover, some other very big species, such as the European catfish (wels) have been accused of swallowing people (albeit, again, a claim more probably folkloric than factual), and elderly specimens of certain giant catfishes, such as the Mekong River's pa beuk, are indeed toothless. So perhaps 'Gums' (an apt name coined by Grayson for Fawcett's edentate enigma) is actually an old toothless catfish, possibly belonging to a still-undescribed extra-large species.
To be continued...