Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Cave cow

Illustration of a cave-dwelling Yucateco ground sloth by Ana Vini for the Instituto de la Prehistoria de América.

Category Lazarus taxon
Proposed scientific names
Other names Central American yeti, devil-devil, old devil
Country reported Belize, Guatemala, Mexico
First reported 1929
Prominent investigators • Thomas Gann
Ivan T. Sanderson

The cave cow is a cryptid reported from Central America's Yucatán Peninsula,[1] particularly Belize, described as a hairy animal the shape of a lizard.[2] Ivan T. Sanderson suggested, and Dale A. Drinnon agrees, that it may be a living ground sloth.[3]


Cave cows were described by Maya people as lizard-shaped animals covered in hair, about 10' long, which, according to their name, lived in caves.[3] Gann's animal had shaggy black hair and a white mane.[2] The animal involved in an alleged attack was powerful, capable of shaking a large cohune palm (Attalea cohune), and had three large claws. Frank Blancaneaux or Thomas Gann believed it may have been feeding on the palm's berries. Blancaneaux's animal was reported from a mosaic of sour-grass savannah and virgin forest, and also lived in a cave.[4]



Thomas Gann

Archaeologist Thomas Gann (1867 – 1938), who reported one sighting of his own, and another made by a friend.

According to archaeologist Thomas Gann (1867 – 1938), French naturalist François "Frank" Blancaneaux (1851 – 1923) and his servant "Joe" had a fatal encounter with a large clawed animal in Belize, near El Cayo, shortly before Blancaneaux retired (i.e. between 1873 and 1897). While resting in a remote savannah region during a calm, windless day, Blancaneaux sent Joe to investigate a periodically-swaying cohune palm (Attalea cohune) in a wooded thicket, only to hear the man shriek in agony shortly afterwards. Rushing to the thicket, Blancaneaux found him severely mauled by what Joe called "the old devil himself," which he said had "ripped him up" before running into the bush.[4]

After Joe died of his injuries, Blancaneaux spent a day following the creature's "pretty obvious trail" through the savannah, virgin forest, and a dry riverbed, before coming to a cave, where he discovered clear tracks, "almost exactly like the thumb and two first fingers of a gigantic human hand, each digit armed with a great claw". Intending to return during the daytime, Blancaneaux tried retracing his steps, but became lost, and made his way back to El Cayo after a few days. He and a party of men attempted to find the cave, but were never able to: the region was "literally honeycombed with caves, and covered with dense virgin bush".[4]


In 1932, Gann, leading a British Museum expedition to the Azul River, a tributary of the Hondo River, which forms the border between Mexico's Quintana Roo State and Belize, glimpsed a large animal with black, shaggy fur and a white mane which obscured its face running through a swampy region on all fours like an ape.[5][2][6]


A pair of tourists honeymooning in Belize wrote to Phantoms and Monsters in 2015, claiming to have had a near encounter with what their guide called a "cow" near Xunantunich. They never saw the animal, only "small trees being push[ed] about as this thing moved through the thick vegetation," but estimated that it must have been very large.[7]


Ivan T. Sanderson theorised that cave cows were medium-sized ground sloths, consistent with the description of hairy, lizard-shaped bodies and cave-dwelling habits[3] while Gann is said to have believed that the animal he saw on the Azul River resembled a ground sloth.[2] A number of medium-sized ground sloths are known from Late Pleistocene Yucatán, including the endemic Nohochichak and Xibalbaonyx, alongside several others including Nothrotheriops and the giant Eremotherium.

Karl Shuker writes that the tracks of the animal which killed Joe, and the injuries inflicted upon the dead man, are consistent with a medium-sized ground sloth identity,[2] a conclusion also supported by Richard Freeman, with the caveat that the story may simply have been a traveller's tale.[8] Both Gann's sighting and the killing of Joe have also been connected with the sisemité, a large cryptid primate,[6] though Freeman points out that the three prominent digits and the large claws on Blancaneaux's animal are inconsistent with a primate identity.[8]

Notes and references[]

  1. Sanderson, Ivan T. "The Florida Underground," PURSUIT Newsletter 1 (May 1967)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Drinnon, Dale A. "Revised Checklist of Cryptozoological Creatures," CFZ Yearbook (2010)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Gann, Thomas (1929) Discoveries And Adventures In Central America
  5. Wilkins, Harold T. (1950) Secret Cities of Old South America, Rider and Company, ISBN 978-1605203218
  6. 6.0 6.1 Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
  7. Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal | Unknown Beast in the Belize Jungle phantomsandmonsters.com [Accessed 10 February 2019]
  8. 8.0 8.1 Freeman, Richard "The Bigfoot Murders," Animals & Men 15