Does the Legendary Mapinguari of South America Exist?

3d illustration of a giant sloth

All over the world there are tales of legendary creatures — sometimes magical and mischievous, such as fairies, sometimes ferocious and deadly, like yowies. Within these creatures’ respective cultures are numerous people who not only believe in them, but are positive that they’ve seen them firsthand. 

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest lurks one of these creatures — the Mapinguari, which is often referred to as a “sloth monster.” It’s a popular figure within Brazilian culture, and tales of how fearsome it is have persisted into modern day, where reports of sightings continue to mount, as does evidence of the destruction left in the Mapinguari’s wake.

According to most legends, the sloth monster began its life thousands of years ago, as an Amazonian shaman who stumbled upon the secret to immortality. Because of his findings, however, he became smug, an attribute that angered the gods. As a punishment for his hubris, they transformed the shaman into a giant, sloth-like creature and left it to wander the forest for eternity.  

Description: The Sloth Monster

When people think of sloths, they generally think of sweet, peaceful, slow-moving creatures that delight in hanging from branches and delicately eat flowers. It’s hard to imagine a fearsome sloth. 

But the mapinguari is giant, exceeding seven feet in length when it stands on its hind legs, which it apparently does, on occasion, though it is said to travel on all fours. And when it assumes this posture, the unfortunate person beholding it can bear witness to its second mouth, located on its belly. 

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Genetic Anomalies and Cryptids

The description grows more bizarre, depending on who gives it. From its backward-facing feet protrude sharp claws. Some say it possesses only one eye, which is centered upon its head, and that its thick skin is akin to that of a crocodile — so tough that arrows would bounce off of it. 

Unlike the common sloth, mapinguaris are reputedly greedy carnivores that will consume any living thing in its path — including entire herds of cattle. Regardless, no reports have been made of any human ever being eaten by the creature. But that may be because of the mapinguari’s stench, a foul-smelling warning said to cover a large radius and be so potent that it could render a person unconscious

Mapinguari Sightings

The Amazonian rainforest contains numerous indigenous tribes, many of whom have not had contact with one another, and they all believe in the mapinguari, have their own names for it (often translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast”), and have personal accounts of it. One member of the Karitiana tribe, Geovaldo Karitiana, recounted his story to the New York Times, explaining that he was hunting in the forest near what his tribe refers to as “the cave of the mapinguari.” He’s quoted as saying, “‘It was coming toward the village and was making a big noise…It stopped when it got near me, and that’s when the bad smell made me dizzy and tired. I fainted, and when I came to, the mapinguari was gone.” 

Geovaldo’s father explained that his son showed him the path of destruction left in the sloth monster’s midst, that the creature’s trail was obvious from the number of felled trees and vines that were trampled and strewn about.

David Oren, a well-known scientist and skeptic-turned-believer, has been pursuing the beast for years. In his quest, he has collected stories from more than 50 other eye witnesses who have come forward with their stories. Discover Magazine shares the story of Mário Pereira de Souza, one of the witnesses who met with Oren: “His encounter with a mapinguari took place in 1975, when he was working as a hunter for a mining camp along the Jamauchim River, which flows into the Tapajós, just south of Itaituba.

De Souza said the long-haired creature screamed and came staggering toward him on its hind legs, swaying and unsteady. But what he remembers most, and the reason he claims he has never set foot in the rain forest again, was the stench. ‘The horrible smell entered into me and made me dizzy,’ he says. ‘I was not right for two months.’”

Ground Sloth Facts — Evidence of Existence

Despite their best efforts, numerous scientists have had a rough time disproving the existence of this giant ground sloth. Even though its description seems so far-fetched, many researchers have reason to believe the creature is a relative of a certain species of giant ground sloth called the Megatherium

The Megatherium is believed to have gone extinct sometime during the 16th century and is described as walking on four legs, but capable of standing on its hind legs, measuring at least nine feet in length. It’s said to have had huge claws that appeared to be backward to dig up vegetation. There’s even evidence of massive scent glands on its stomach that may have been mistaken for a second mouth. Perhaps it would explain the creature’s token horrific stench. Unlike the mapinguari, the Megatherium was said to be a vegetarian.

The world is replete with strange, wondrous, and fear-provoking creatures, and the Amazon is no exception. Of course, there is no telling what the mapinguari actually is, but like so many of the wild and elusive monsters of legend, its unfortunate reputation — and stench — precedes it. Jungle explorers would be best served to retreat at the first malodorous hint, and taking the advice of tribal leader Domingos Parintintin who said that “…the best thing to do if you see one is climb a tree and hide.” And, you know, take a few photographs while you’re up there.

Environmental correspondent Ian Johnston reported that “a new species is being discovered in the Amazon every two days, from fire-tailed titi monkeys and yellow-moustached lizards to pink river dolphins and honeycomb-patterned stingrays. And “the astonishing rate of new finds showed scientists had still only scratched the surface of all the ‘incredible species’ that live there.” Perhaps the mapinguari is next on the list, if the Amazon survives long enough to reveal its secrets.

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The Cryptohunter
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Cryptids Proven to be Real Give Us Hope For These 5 Others

Cryptozoology is derided for pseudoscience and fantastic claims, but when you consider some of the legends that have turned out to be real animals, it lends credibility to other potentially real cryptid creatures. And while the actual beasts are often more believable than the embellished monsters of lore, occasionally they can be pretty bizarre – whether a remnant of the Cretaceous period, a curious hybrid, or an inter-dimensional entity, some of these clandestine faunae are truly plausible.

That’s why we’ve compiled a shortlist of animals once-considered cryptids, that have now been proven real, using their stories as hope to strengthen our faith that the cryptid monsters we know and love may someday prove their existence to us.

But haven’t we discovered nearly every species of animal on Earth, you might ask? Far from it. In 2016 alone, scientists discovered roughly 18,000 new animal species. That’s not to mention that 80 percent of the world’s oceans are entirely unmapped, unobserved and unexplored, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). So, who knows how many more could be down there.

Read through the first list of creatures proven to be real, then read the second list and determine whether there is enough evidence for the yet-to-be-proven-cryptids to have a basis in reality. We’ve provided cryptid pictures to help you along the way.

Cryptid Monsters Proven Real

Cryptid monsters are known to terrorize and typically reported by a significant portion of a population, or at least a large enough group to confirm that it is indeed an anomalous creature. In earlier years, these animals were brutes fought by hunters and fishermen on outings and were exaggerated to prove their machismo upon returning home. But eventually, these tales became backed by hard evidence, and today we know them well.

  1. The Giant Squid 

19th-century Scandinavian whalers spoke of the Kraken; an enormous squid whose appendages were found in the bellies of whales and said to be as thick as a ship mast. Fishermen continued to report attacks by these tentacled monstrosities, to the disbelief of landlubbers back home. But eventually, they returned with specimens or found their carcasses washed ashore.

In 1853, a large squid with a horny beak and large throat washed aground in Denmark, baffling local scientists. Johan Japetus Steenstrup, a professor of zoology from the University of Copenhagen, identified the creature as a giant squid.

Today, the giant squid is a scientifically accepted animal, reaching lengths up to 40 feet long. Their enormity is attributed to something called deep-sea gigantism; a tendency for deep-sea invertebrates to be larger than their shallow-water relatives. But the giant squid isn’t even the biggest mollusk of its kind, that title is reserved for the colossal squid, which reaches up to 46 feet in length.

Image: Luis Laria, CEPESMA

 

  1. The Platypus

The platypus is a rather bizarre-looking creature and if you attempted to explain it to someone before its discovery, they’d almost certainly believe you were mad. So, it’s an egg-laying mammal with the bill of a duck, the tail of a beaver, the webbed-feet of an otter, and the venom of a snake? Sure.

But now the platypus is a well-known creature, lending credence to the possibility of other cryptids that seem to be an amalgam of disparate species. When it was first presented to British zoologist George Shaw, he attempted to rip off its beak, believing it had been glued on. Eventually, he took scissors to the deceased animal, before he realized it was genuine. That particular specimen can be found to this day in a British museum.

 

Platypus cryptid illustration

 

  1. The Frilled Shark

Sea serpents have stoked the fears of sea-farers for centuries, tormenting sailors and swallowing ships whole. From Texas to Norway, reports of sea serpents sprang up in local and national publications during the 19th-century, depicted as gargantuan snakes devouring unwitting mariners while they innocently roamed the sea.

Today, the frilled shark could be considered the closest animal to these horrific serpent tales, appearing much like those descriptions written in antiquity, though comparatively smaller. The frilled shark was discovered in the late 1800s by German ichthyologist Ludwig H.P. Döderlein, and later described by Samuel Garman as, “such an animal as that described is very likely to unsettle disbelief in what is popularly called the ‘sea serpent.’”

So, it’s a shark, but a frightening one at that, with 25 clusters of 300 sharp, serrated teeth, the Chlamydoselachus africana is one of those relics from the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. It’s also one of those deep-sea dwellers, which is part of the reason they are so rarely seen.

Images: IMPA/MINOUW Project

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