Back to the present, however, and herewith my latest blog – the first part of a lengthy account regarding some of South America’s cryptids. These will include some mystery birds, so if you’re interested in them, check out the current issue of Paranormal Magazine, which has an entire article on crypto-birds by me.
SOUTH AMERICAN MYSTERY BEASTS
A 62-ft-long anaconda may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but according to the renowned South American explorer Lt.-Col. Percy Fawcett, this is precisely what he and his exploration team encountered in western Brazil during 1907 while voyaging by canoe along the Rio Abuna, near to its confluence with the Rio Negro. Uncomfortably close to Fawcett's canoe, several feet of broad, powerful, undulating, serpentine coils and a huge triangular head rose up above the surface of the river, and as he and his team watched in horror, a truly colossal anaconda began emerging onto the riverbank. Greatly alarmed by the threat posed to his team by this limbless leviathan, Fawcett shot the snake dead, and then proceeded to measure its gargantuan form. To his amazement, he discovered that the portion of its body that had emerged from the water prior to being shot was 45 ft long, and the portion remaining in the water was 17 ft, thereby adding up to a grand total of 62 ft!
Needless to say, however, Fawcett and his team had no means of transporting an immensely heavy, rapidly-decomposing (and extremely odiferous!), 62-ft carcase back to civilisation. Consequently, his claims concerning its size remain unconfirmed - and Fawcett himself famously vanished in the Brazilian jungle during 1925, never to be seen again.
As there has never been a fully-confirmed specimen of anaconda measuring over 30 ft, some snake experts today are highly sceptical of Fawcett's account. Others, conversely, are not so dismissive. One thing, however, is for sure - giant anacondas are just one of a remarkable number of controversial, still-unrecognised creatures reported over the years from the vast uncharted depths of South America's verdant jungles of mystery.
Giant anaconda (William Rebsamen)
SUCURIJU GIGANTE - OR, BEWARE OF THE SERPENT!
Immense anacondas may seem fanciful to western science, but they are apparently very real to the Indian tribes inhabiting riverside localities within the 'green hell' of Amazonia, who even give these oversized serpents their own specific name - sucuriju gigante.
Some reports seem too incredible to be taken seriously, yet have been vehemently championed by eyewitnesses to the events in question. Thus, in 1948 a stupendous anaconda emerged from the River Oiapoc in Brazil's Guapore territory, and hid itself within the fortifications of Fort Tabatinga - until it was finally dispatched by a hail of at least 500 machine-gun bullets fired by a team of soldiers sent to kill it. According to an illustrated report of this incident later published in a Rio de Janeiro newspaper, when its colossal carcase was measured this monstrous snake was found to be 115 ft long! How accurate this claim is, however, will never be known, because after they had killed it the soldiers pushed the anaconda's body back into the river.
Less incredible but still very impressive was the anaconda once spotted by Amazon voyager F.W. Up de Graffe lying in shallow water underneath his canoe. Writing in 1923:
"It measured 50 ft for certainty, and probably nearer 60. This I know from the position in which it lay. Our canoe was a 24 footer; the snake's head was 10 or 12 ft beyond the bow; its tail was a good 4 ft beyond the stern; the center of its body was looped up into a huge S, whose length was the length of our dugout and whose breadth was a good 5 ft."
There are certain fundamental problems facing anyone attempting to assess reports of giant snakes. Eyewitnesses tend to be notoriously inaccurate when estimating the length of a long snake - especially one that is coiled up. Evidence supplied in the form of extra-lengthy snake skins is of little value either, as skins can be stretched quite considerably. As for photographs purporting to show giant snakes, these rarely contain any scale by which the reptile's size can be determined. And, for obvious reasons, the prospect of capturing and bringing back for scientific examination a living specimen of a serpentine giant is a daunting one to say the very least!
Nevertheless, the likelihood of anacondas existing that do exceed 30 ft, and possibly quite considerably, cannot be ruled out of hand. If the anaconda were a terrestrial species, giant specimens would be highly unlikely, simply because they would be too heavy to move efficiently. As the anaconda is primarily aquatic, however, its body weight - even if fairly immense - would be effectively buoyed by its surrounding watery medium, thus permitting it to grow to sizes far in excess of anything that a land-living serpent could emulate.
THE ANOMALOUS ANDEAN WOLF
Andean wolf pelt (Dennis Vrettos)
The pelt depicted above is currently unique - the only preserved example of a pelt from the elusive, still-controversial Andean wolf. It came from a market in Buenos Aires, where it and three others just like it were spotted by German animal dealer Lorenz Hagenbeck in 1927. After learning that it was from a strange form of dog allegedly inhabiting the Andes, Hagenbeck purchased this pelt - the fate of the others is unknown - and brought it back to Europe, where it is now housed at the Zoological State Museum in Munich, Germany.
Perplexed scientists examined its luxuriant, dense pelage, unlike anything previously documented, and proposed that it originated from an as-yet-undescribed, mountain-dwelling version of the maned wolf Chrysocyon jubatus. German zoologist Dr Ingo Krumbiegel paired it with an equally mysterious canine skull of Andean origin, and in 1949 published a paper in which he formally described this reclusive, montane-adapted maned wolf, and subsequently named it Dasycyon hagenbecki ('Hagenbeck's thick-furred dog'). No sightings or further specimens of this supposed new species, however, have ever been recorded. Hair analyses later suggested that the pelt may be (or may at least be descended) from a domestic sheepdog, but this identity of a wolf in sheepdog's clothing has not been confirmed. During the late 1990s, Guillaume Chapron, a member of the IUCN/SSC-Veterinary Specialist Group, expressed an interest in researching the Andean wolf during some planned field work in Argentina, but again there have been no further developments to date.
MAKE WAY FOR THE MINHOCÃO
Described by eyewitnesses as resembling a huge worm, but with a pair of small stubby horns on its head, and covered in black scaly skin, it is generally referred to as the minhocão (see an earlier blog of mine for a detailed account of this cryptid). Over the years, many attempts have been made to offer a zoological identity for this cryptic beast - ranging from a giant lungfish to a surviving species of gargantuan armadillo-related prehistoric mammal known as a glyptodont. As I have proposed in previous publications and also in a previous ShukerNature blog post, however, the minhocão's description and behaviour corresponds closest to what one would expect for a giant species of caecilian - a limbless, worm-like, burrowing amphibian, which sometimes does have a pair of small tentacles on its head, and skin embedded with small scales.
To be continued...