Does the Legendary Mapinguari of South America Exist?
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.
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.
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.
Boy Lost in Woods for 2 Days Tells Mom He Hung Out With a Bear
A boy who went missing in the woods for two days told his family he “hung out with a bear” before he was discovered by rescuers. The boy’s aunt made the claim in a Facebook group, describing his experience as miraculous, and the bear a divine gift.
Three-year-old Casey Hathaway went missing last week when he wandered off while playing in his grandmother’s backyard. Rescuers found him a few days later tangled up in a patch of thorns. He was found crying out for his mother less than a mile from where he went missing.
Questions about whether the bear was imaginary or real are being debated, but Hathaway’s mother believed her son enough to include it in the police report. According to sources, the county Sheriff thought the claim was cute, but probably not real — that didn’t stop his office from posting a picture of the boy next to a picture of a bear on its Facebook page.
“He made a comment about having a friend while he was in the woods — his friend was a bear,” Maj. David McFadyen of the Craven County Sheriff’s Office told CNN.
According to reports, the boy survived two nights in 20 degree weather with heavy winds and pouring rain, making it more believable he received protection of some sort. Psychologists plan to conduct further interviews with Hathaway, but are giving him time to recover from the traumatic experience.
Though the boy’s story may be hard to believe, it’s almost impossible to disprove. And there are certainly plenty of stories of animals coming to the rescue of humans in dire situations.
Online, people in the more conspiracy-minded forums proposed the possibility that Hathaway’s mysterious savior may have been Bigfoot or the strange Missing 411 phenomenon researched and written about by David Paulides.
Paulides has devoted his career to researching hundreds of strange disappearances throughout the U.S. after a park ranger told him thousands of odd and unexplained disappearances have occurred in the National Park Service’s history. Could this have been one such case that fortunately turned out to have a happy ending?
There are others who have speculated that the bear Hathaway referred to may have been a benevolent spirit that helped him find shelter and keep him safe during his harrowing time alone.
Until the boy is a little older, we may never know whether he was saved by his guardian angel or a real life Baloo. In either case, the story is pretty miraculous.
For more on David Paulides’ Missing 411 documentation of strange National Park disappearances check out this episode of Beyond Belief: