Does the Legendary Mapinguary of South America Exist?


By: Tasha Shayne  |  Oct. 3, 2019

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.

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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

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 mapinguary, 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 mapinguary.” 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 mapinguary 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 mapinguary 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 retreating 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 mapinguary is next on the list if the Amazon survives long enough to reveal its secrets.

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