Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Thursday, 4 August 2016


Front and back cover from my much-read, greatly-treasured 1970s paperback edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic crypto-novel The Lost World (Cover illustration © Pan Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use Policy only basis)

It is not widely known, but when writing his famous novel The Lost World (published in 1912), in which dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other Mesozoic reptiles have survived into the present day amid a totally isolated realm present on the plateau at the summit of a very high tepui (a vertically-sided, flat-topped or table-topped mountain in South America), one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's inspirations was a real but still highly mysterious tepui known as Kurupira.

It was named after the curupira, a legendary Amazonian man-beast-like entity. This particular tepui stands 3,435 ft above sea level, and is situated on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border.

The curupira, as depicted in the painting 'O Curupira' by Manoel Santago, 1926 (public domain)

Conan Doyle had learnt about Kurupira from the famous, subsequently-lost explorer Lt-Col. Percy H. Fawcett. In 1908, he led an expedition to some great sandstone tepuis in Bolivia known as the Franco Ricardo hills .

There are more than 100 tepuis in South America, and at 9,220 ft above sea level Mount Roraima is the highest (and also the largest) in the Pakaraima chain on the borders of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Lieut-Col. Percy H. Fawcett (right) (public domain)

Although they did not encounter any prehistoric creatures, Fawcett and his team did receive various native reports of frightening monsters said to inhabit Kurupira and its environs by the local Waiká Indians who inhabit the jungle area around the vicinity of its base. It was Fawcett's recollections of these reports that provided Conan Doyle with further plot ideas during his novel's preparation,.

In particular, he was enthralled by Fawcett's tales of an exceedingly voracious bipedal reptile known to the Waiká as the stoa, which was investigated more recently by Czech zoologist Jaroslav Mareš, who documented some of his findings in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia Svět Tajemných Zvířat ('The World of Mysterious Animals'), published in 1997. Mareš spent time residing at Kurupira's base during an expedition there in 1978 (sadly, their attempts to scale this tepui's steep sides proved unsuccessful), and he learnt about the Waiká Indians' belief in the stoa and other alleged monsters here.

My copy of Jaroslav Mareš's cryptozoological encyclopaedia Svět Tajemných Zvířat ('The World of Mysterious Animals') (© Jaroslav Mareš/Littera Bohemica)

They described the stoa as measuring up to 25 ft long and superficially resembling a giant-sized caiman (several species of these South American freshwater alligator relatives are known, but all are of far smaller size). However, they also stated that it can be readily distinguished from such reptiles by way of the following major differences.

First and foremost of these was the very notable fact that the stoa is exclusively bipedal, moving entirely upon its two gigantic hind legs, because its front limbs are so short that it cannot stand upon them. Its jaws are much shorter than a caiman's too, but its head is taller, and it bears a pair of prominent horns above its eyes, which are somewhat reminiscent of those sported by the South American horned frogs Ceratophrys spp.

Horned frog Ceratophrys ornata (public domain)

The Waiká likened its body colouration to theirs too (i.e. green or golden-brown with darker markings), but its mouth is not as wide as that of these famously wide-mouthed frogs, and its skin is covered with hard, non-overlapping, tubercular scales. Above all, they affirmed that there is never any hope of escape if pursued by a stoa.

Moreover, Mareš revealed that this Indian account was confirmed by the missionaries from the Porto da Maloca settlement on the upper Rio Mapulau, located approximately 15 miles from Kurupira as the crow flies. However, they did not believe that the stoa is real. For them, it is just a part of Waiká mythology.

Artistic rendition of the possible appearance in life of the stoa, alongside a human for scale purposes (© Connor Lachmanec)

Mareš has also written three books specifically devoted to Kurupira and its mysteries - Hledání Ztraceného Světa ('In Search of The Lost World'), which documented his 1978 expedition and was published in 1992; Hrůza Zvaná Kurupira ('The Horror Named Kurupira'), published in 2001; and Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství ('Kurupira: Sinister Secrets'), published in 2005. In the second of these three, Mareš mentioned meeting during spring 1997 at Boa Vista (capital of Roraima, Brazil's northernmost state) a Scottish gold-prospector whose real name Mareš has not publicly disclosed, referring to him instead only by the pseudonym 'Reginald Riggs'.

Mareš had previously met Riggs in 1978, during his above-mentioned expedition to Mount Kurupira. In his 2001 book, Mareš revealed that while Riggs was prospecting in the vicinity of Kurupira he had befriended a Waiká tribesman named Retewa, who supplied him with information concerning the stoa, another dinosaurian cryptid called the suwa, and a pterosaur-like beast termed the washoriwe.

Hrůza Zvaná Kurupira (2001) and Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství (2005) (© Jaroslav Mareš)

According to Retewa (via Riggs), the stoa's most common prey are tapirs. Apparently, it conceals itself in dense forest close to a riverbank where these large horse-related ungulates bathe, then abruptly emerges to attack them when they arrive there. It will also devour capybaras, those sizeable pig-like rodents that occur here too. One account related by Retewa to Riggs concerned a reputed confrontation between some hunters from his village and a stoa that they inadvertently encountered while it was looking out for prey. They shot at it with their arrows, but they failed to penetrate its hard, scale-protected skin, and the enraged stoa killed several of them before the others fled.

In an attempt to explain both the origin of the Waiká's firm belief in the stoa and (as he also discovered during his investigations) the complete absence of any such belief among Indian tribes living further out from Kurupira, Mareš has cautiously offered the following thought-provoking theory. He suggests that if the stoa is indeed real, perhaps its species is normally confined entirely to this tepui's lofty isolated plateau, but that a single individual may very occasionally find its way into their ground-level territory via a crack or fracture leading down the tepui from its summit to its base, after which the Waiká live in great fear of it, even after its eventual death, thereby maintaining and reinforcing its presence in their minds and lore for another generation or so until the next accidental stoa visitation occurs.

Restoration of the possible appearance in life of Carnotaurus (© Lida Xing and Yi Liu/Wikipedia CC BY 2.5 licence)

As for what the stoa may be, taxonomically speaking, if it does truly exist: in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš noted that during the Cretaceous, South America was home to a taxonomic family of theropod dinosaurs known as the abelisaurids, which were bipedal, carnivorous, and, in some cases, extremely large. The most famous abelisaurid was Carnotaurus sastrei, which was up to 30 ft long, and as noted by Mareš it also happens to be potentially relevant to the stoa for two very different but equally intriguing morphology-based reasons. Firstly: dating from the late Cretaceous and disinterred in 1984 from the La Colonia Formation in Argentina's Chubut Province, its only recorded but exceptionally well-preserved fossilised skeleton shows that this particular abelisaurid species bore a pair of sharp pointed horns above its eyes, just like the stoa (Carnotaurus translates as 'flesh-eating bull'). Secondly: this skeleton is so well preserved that it reveals that the skin of Carnotaurus bore hard non-overlapping scales all over it, just like the stoa.

Coupled with the overall similarity in outward form and size between Carnotaurus and the stoa, these more specific, unexpectedly-matching features led Mareš to speculate as to whether this abelisaurid's lineage may have escaped the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous and has possibly lingered on through the Cenozoic Era into the present-day here in this very remote South American location, isolated atop a high tepui except for rare occasions when one might find its way down into the junglelands at Kurupira's base.

The still-classic (if scientifically-superseded) restoration of sauropods by Charles Knight, 1897 (public domain)

The stoa was not the only putative dinosaur of Kurupira spoken about by Retewa to Riggs. He also claimed that up on this tepui's plateau lives another very strange creature, known to the Waitá as the suwa, a picture of which he drew in the sand for Riggs to see, and a copy of which Riggs in turn drew in his diary, later seen by Mareš. The picture shows a bulky, long-necked, quadrupedal creature, which Riggs likened to a sauropod dinosaur or even a plesiosaur (however, its limbs were clearly portrayed in the drawing as legs, not flippers).

According to the Waiká, moreover, a third mystery creature, called by them the washoriwe, would sometimes swoop down from Kurupira's high summit into the jungle at its base, skimming through this Indian tribe's territory on huge wings that boasted a span of 20 ft or more. In addition, it bore a long bony backward-pointing crest upon its head, and sported a very long pointed beak.

Plateau on top of the tepui in The Lost World (1912) (public domain)

Waiká lore attests that this terrifying entity is the immortal forefather of all vampire bats. Yet whereas the immortal forefathers of all other creatures in their lore closely resemble their respective descendants (except for the much greater size of the forefathers), the long-beaked, bony-crested washoriwe bears scant resemblance to the short-faced, crestless vampire bats. Moreover, whereas these latter bats are strictly nocturnal, the washoriwe reputedly flies only during the daytime.

After highlighting these significant morphological and behavioural discrepancies in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš pointed out how, in stark contrast, the washoriwe seemed to be very similar in form and lifestyle to certain pterosaurs. He also commented upon the curious coincidence of how frequently the finding of complete, perfectly-preserved fossil pterosaurs by palaeontologists had occurred in this same region in modern times.

Prof. Challenger vs the pterosaurs in The Lost World (© Richard Svensson)

Might the Waiká's belief in the washoriwe have been inspired, therefore, by their own possible finding of fossil pterosaur remains here from time to time? Or might it even be, as again pondered by Mareš, that the abundance of such remains in this region lends support to the possibility that a pterosaurian lineage has persisted here right into the present day, currently undiscovered by science but well known to the local Indians, who refer to these airborne prehistoric survivors as washoriwes?

When Mareš met Riggs in Boa Vista, Roraima (Brazil's northernmost state), during spring 1997, he learnt that, near a waterfall at Kurupira, Riggs had caught sight of a mysterious flying creature that Retewa had identified as a washoriwe. Moreover, in his cryptozoological encyclopaedia, Mareš stated that other gold-prospectors in this same area have also claimed to have seen such creatures here, flying high above the jungle's tree tops, and some have even sworn that they have been attacked by them.

Do pterosaurs swoop down to the ground from Kurupira's plateau? (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Yet amidst all of these claims of Mesozoic monsters alive and well and living in splendid isolation on Kurupira's lofty plateau, there is a key question desperately needing to be asked. For even if we actually accept that a stoa may very occasionally find its way down from this tepui's summit to its base, and that washoriwes might indeed sometimes wing their way down too, the very burly, quadupedal, sauropod-like form of the suwa unequivocally debars this cryptid from following suit – so how can the Waiká be aware of its existence? Interestingly, Riggs actually asked Retewa how his people could know what exists on the plateau at the top of Kurupira, but Retewa was unable to provide an answer. So perhaps – as surmised by the missionaries – all of their claims regarding monsters are truly based upon nothing more substantial than traditional Waiká mythology, with no foundation in reality.

Alternatively, could it be that at least in earlier days, some of the Waiká's bravest warriors actually scaled Kurupira's daunting height, explored its plateau, and then returned to their tribe back on the ground with stories (exaggerated or otherwise) of what they had seen there? And, if so, perhaps what they saw there was so terrifying that they have never returned, but the original eyewitness reports have been preserved in their tribal lore down through succeeding generations. Who can say?

Mini-poster for The Lost World, 1925 film (public domain)

I wish to take this opportunity to thank very sincerely my friend Miroslav 'Mirek' Fišmeister from the Czech Republic for so kindly translating into English for me all of the relevant passages regarding Kurupira and the stoa, suwa, and washoriwe from Mareš's books. This has enabled me to present here the most extensive, accurate coverage of these cryptids ever produced in English.

Previously, the only English-language reports concerning them that I had been aware of, all of them online, were sparse, confused, and sometimes entirely inaccurate. The principal reason for this inaccuracy stemmed from the fact that a prehistoric monster called the stoa actually appears in Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World, in which it is described as a warty-skinned, toad-like reptile, leaping on its hind legs, but larger than the largest elephant, and of frightful, horrible appearance.

The stoa as depicted in The Lost World film of 1925 (public domain)

This has inspired some erroneous online speculation, i.e. that there is no cryptozoological basis for the stoa, that it is entirely fictitious, a baseless invention of Conan Doyle for his novel. In reality, however, as I have now revealed here, it is the exact reverse that is true. Namely, that the stoa in his novel was directly inspired by reports of Kurupira's cryptozoological stoa as told to him by Fawcett.

Yet another longstanding example of online cryptozoological confusion is finally elucidated and resolved.

This ShukerNature blog article is exclusively adapted from my forthcoming book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors.


  1. A very interesting article indeed ! I've been a fan of Conan Doyle's book since childhood, as have many other people of course, But i only recently read 'Exploration Fawcett' and 'The lost city of Z', both of which i enjoyed immensely. I'd love to read the Mares books, but presume they're not translated into English. ? Do you have any details of when your prehistoric survivors book will be available ? I have a copy of the original, but is the new book a re-write or a completely new book ? Or an updated revision ? Also, any news or info on your Loch Ness book ? Many thanks yet again for a great post.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words, and I'm glad that you enjoyed this article. My Loch Ness monster book is due out later this month, having now been fully produced at the publishers and is now at the printers. My new prehistoric survivors book is a massively expanded, fully updated new edition of the original one. Its manuscript is currently being laid out and formatted at its publisher, and is over 600 pages long (making it the biggest book that I have ever written, or indeed am ever likely to write), and also contains numerous new illustrations, mostly in colour this time. If everything stays on schedule, it will be published some time during this coming autumn/fall, so both will be available to purchase in good time for Christmas (hint, hint, lol).

    2. I won't be able to wait for christmas !! But seriously, i am looking forward to both books. Thanks for the update.

  2. No, sadly, the Jaroslav Mareš books are not available in English, only in the original Czech editions, so I was and am very fortunate to have a Czech friend, Mirek, who is happy to translate relevant portions from them into English for me.

  3. Very interesting. Looking forward to the new books!

  4. Karl - when does it come out? I LOVED the first volume!

    1. Thanks Rob - as noted above, it is currently going through the layout and formatting stages at the publisher, but if everything stays on schedule it should be out during this coming autumn/fall.

  5. The poor soil of the tepuis, not to mention their size, renders it unlikely that anything as big as a dinosaur could live there. However, one visitor did happen to see a couple of unknown animals which looked like miniature plesiosaurs.

    1. Yes indeed, I devoted a section to those cryptids in the original 1995 edition of my Prehistoric Survivors book, and it also appears in this book's new, greatly-expanded edition, which is due out this coming autumn/fall.

  6. Great article! Could find nothing else about Kurupira, which perhaps has different physical characteristics compared to other tepuis that could make a "lost world" scenario more conceivable. Has anyone been on the top and documented what they found or even photographed it from an aircraft? Look forward to the updated edition of Prehistoric Survivors...

  7. There is a bipedal pseudosuchian found in Northern Argentina called Sillosuchus, thought to be 228-235 millions years old. Unfortunately there is no known skull fossil, so we don't know if it had horns. Nor do we know if it looked at all like the crocodiles it was partially named after.

  8. "warty-skinned, toad-like reptile, leaping on its hind legs,"

    Quite irrelevant I suppose, but the inspiration for this appears to have been Charles Knights drawing and descriptions of Laelaps (Dryptosaurus), the descriptions of which included speculation as to a possible kangaroo-like movement, as seen in this drawing from 1897.


  9. Ever consider that this world we exist in is "the lost world" & the tepuis are "normal worlds"?

  10. So... it turns out there's a fairly well known real life inspiration for The Lost World... and no-one has recently gone up there looking for dinosaurs?!? Karl my man I'm free most of next week if you want a travel companion. I'll buy a rope and a grapple hook from B & Q and we should be good to go!

    But seriously this is incredible isn't it?

    1. Yes indeed it is, and as the stoa's history has been much-confused in the past, especially in internet coverages, it was good to be able to uncover the true version at long last and present it here.

  11. So there's a actual plateau with a couple species of post KT dinosaurs such as carnotaurus, why hasn't there been any research or no one has gone up there I mean we have helicopters we don't need to climb up the slopes and why is it i can't find any other information on this kurupia plateau I'd like to know more on it.

  12. Do you have a location of this plateau because I've been trying to find information but it's been scarce to say the least and I want to know its location so I can prove it exists as if the plateau exist all the possible dinosaurs that are mentioned could be discovered.

    1. According to Mares, and I have no independent corroboration for this, so for me it remains wholly speculative, the Brazilian government has purposefully hidden Kurupira's locality from the general public in recent years by removing it from maps and other sources of information that could pinpoint its position. There have been claims by various investigators that it is linked to UFO/alien activity, etc, all very controversial and scientifically unproven.

    2. Doesn't Mareš claim to have visited Kurupira on an expedition though? Surely he could pinpoint the location as you're in correspondence with him. Sounds highly suspicious to me.

    3. I'm not in correspondence with Mareš. All of my information concerning his investigations came from hia books.

    4. Mea culpa,I misread Miroslav 'Mirek' Fišmeister for Mareš and thought you got the translation direct from the author. Re-reading my original comment it also sounds like I might be implying I was suspicious of you, which wasn't my intention, I'm suspicious of the story as told by Mareš.

  13. Dinosaurs, UFOs and government cover ups sounds really interesting but also very suspicious at the same time