The mapinguari (see etymology below) or mapinguary is a cryptid reported from the Brazilian and Venezuelan Amazon and possibly Paraguay, described most simply as a bulletproof, extremely foul-smelling animal with long hair, robust claws, and both quadrupedal and bipedal locomotion. Popular folklore also gives it a number of characteristics typical of mythical South American monsters, such as a mouth in its abdomen, and the European cyclopean characteristic of a single eye, features rarely appearing in sightings. As of 2001, David Oren had collected more than eighty mapinguari sightings and seven accounts of mapinguaris being killed, and more sightings have been reported since then.
Early cryptozoologists such as Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson theorised that the mapinguari was some sort of undescribed primate, and it has been connected with giant monkeys and Bigfoot-type animals. In 1993, ornithologist David Oren proposed based on accounts he received that the mapinguari may be a living mylodontid or megalonychid ground sloth, a theory which has become more widespread than the primate theory. The differences of description is believed to be due to the lumping together of different unknown animals under the name of "mapinguari". According to George Eberhart, the pilosan variety is most commonly reported from the western Amazon, while the simian variety is reported from the eastern Amazon, though both types are broadly pan-Amazonian. Dale A. Drinnon refers to the pilosan as the wolfskin and the simian as the bottlefoot. Karl Shuker, writing on the pilosan version, says that "it certainly seems to be one of the most likely creatures in the cryptozoological annals to be officially unveiled one day by science". It has been lumped together with some other Amazonian cryptids with extremely similar descriptions, including the didi and curupira (simian), and the kida harara, segamai, jucucu, and ujea (pilosan).
No references to the mapinguari itself were recorded prior to the late 19th Century, but similar cryptids had been reported for some time. It was not initially a very famous cryptid, but has recently become fairly well-known due to media appearances, both as the "Brazilian Bigfoot" and as an alleged living ground sloth. Consequently, the term "mapinguari" has sometimes been applied to any alleged cryptid ground sloths, in South and North America.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Description
- 3 Physical evidence
- 4 Attestations
- 5 Sightings
- 6 Current status
- 7 Theories
- 8 Similar cryptids
- 9 In popular culture
- 10 Selected sightings map
- 11 Notes and references
Câmara Cascudo suggested that "mapinguari" is a contraction of the Tupi-Guarani words: "mbaé," "pi," and "guari," meaning "a thing that has a bent [or] crooked foot [or] paw". The name is commonly translated as "the roaring animal" or "the fetid beast", an etymology originating with the New York Times. A Spanish-languages website also gives the etymology of mapinguari as "defender of the forests". David Oren writes "mapinguaris" as the plural of the term. "Mao de pilao" means "pestle hand" in Portuguese. In modern Portuguese, it is said to be increasingly referred to as the macaco-preguiça gigante ("giant sloth-monkey").
Initial descriptions of the mapinguari's appearance were vague. It was described as a primate, dark and thickset and bipedal, but still very agile. The traditional, folkloric depiction of the mapinguari is that of an ape- or man-like creature. One such description depicts the mapinguari as a very tall, very powerful humanoid covered in a turtle-like shell, which comes out at night to feed on human flesh. Frequently, especially in modern times, it is depicted as a cyclops. A 1913 account calls it a fabulous forest giant, but also describes the "macaco de borracha" (Portuguese: "rubber monkey") of Acre, an animal covered in long and tangled hair which repels bullets. The macaco de borracha was the size of a Newfoundland dog when on all fours, but was taller than a man when standing upright on its hind feet. A caboclo interviewed in 1960, specifically contesting the traditional folkloric description, described the mapinguari as a carnivorous, horrifying-looking animal resembling a very tall horse, which was tall enough to rub itself high up on tree trunks when it was itching.
It was described to investigator Paulo Aníbal G. Mesquita as a flat-snouted quadrupedal animal (which could nonetheless assume a bipedal gait) with caiman-like skin, long brown fur, a flattened snout, and robust claws. When startled it was said to rear up on its hind legs and show its claws, and some informants told Mesquita that it emitted an "extremely foul odour from its belly".
David Oren pieced together a description of the mapinguari in 1993, based on interviews with a number of claimed eyewitnesses. From their accounts, he described the mapinguari as a man-sized animal, no more than a metre and eighty centimetres long, with long reddish fur, backwards feet, and a monkey-like face. Sometimes it was said to have a crest of longer fur, likened to a mane, on its neck and back. Later, in 2001, after speaking with more witnesses and seven hunters who claimed to have killed specimens, Oren was able to give a presumably more accurate description of the animal. According to his 2001 paper, the mapinguari is a very heavy, powerfully-built animal, up to two metres (6'6'') tall when standing bipedally, which breaks the roots of trees with its steps. It is covered in long and coarse fur which ranges in colour from reddish to brownish to blackish, and has a muzzle similar to that of a horse or a burro, though shorter, which is armed with four peg-shaped canine teeth. Its formidable claws are shaped like those of the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), but are the size of those of the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus). Its tail is short, short and broad, or "large and thick". Additionally, Luis Jorge Salinas claimed that the animals he saw had humped backs, strange tortoise-like necks, and chests devoid of hair (which is also a feature of the kida harara). Various other physical features which may apply to the mapinguari are described in the segamai and kida harara—for instance, the matted fur of the segamai is said to resemble the fibers on the trunk of an Oenocarpus palm; and the segamai and kida harara are both said to live in caves.
Sometimes, but not often, it is described as having more fantastic characteristics such as a single eye, and a mouth in its abdomen. Oren writes that the single eye appears predominately in legend, not usually in first-hand sightings, and it is thought to have been introduced by Portuguese stories of cyclopes. Most famously, the mapinguari is reputed to be invulnerable to bullets and arrows unless hit in the navel, the eye(s), the mouth, or sometimes elsewhere on the head. This invulnerability is sometimes attributed to thick or crocodile -like skin, or to the animal's hair. Hunters who claim to have shot specimens say they used special solid lead shotgun slugs fired at the head; a special shot used for hunting tapirs fired at the navel from a .16 calibre shotgun; and all the bullets of a .38 caliber revolver, emptied into the chest.
Two kinds of tracks are attributed to the mapinguari. The first, and most common, are as "round as a pestle" (like those attributed to the pé de garrafa) and are found in the ground around vegetation and faeces even during the dry season, when the earth is baked hard. The second tracks are "like people's, but backwards," with only four toes. The mapinguari's faeces were always described to Oren as "just like horses," and are said to contain poorly-broken down, recognisable plant matter such as leaves and stems. Of all the Amazonian mammals, only the South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) produces similarly horse-like faeces, but this animal usually defecates in water, whereas supposed mapinguari dung is found on land.
According to most accounts it can walk either quadrupedally or bipedally, but the bipedal gait is often described as unsteady (Salinas describes a "Charlie Chaplin" gait). Some sightings, however, describe a fast and agile animal. It is said to be nocturnal and crepuscular (i.e. active at night and twilight), and feeds on vegetation including bacaba (Oenocarpus bacaba) and babassu palms (Attalea speciosa), which it twists to the ground and tears apart in order to feed on the palm heart and berry-like fruits. The diet of the Peruvian segamai is described similarly. In southern Brazil and Paraguay, the mapinguari is blamed for periodically killing vast herds of cattle by pulling out their tongues, killings associated with terrible roars. It is said to be migratory, descending from the Andean foothills around February in Acre, near the Peruvian border. Salinas claimed to have seen a family group, and near the Venezuelan border it is said to travel in pairs.
Although its call is often described generically as a terrifying roar or bellow, two distinct types of vocalisations are also described. The first is a low call reminiscent of thunder, while the other is a very loud, higher-pitched cry "just like a human shouting," but with a growl at the end. This second cry often impresses and terrifies people who claim to have heard it: claimed eyewitness Innôcencio, who initially mistook the cry for that of a man, described it as "wild and dismal," "horrible, deafening and inhuman." Oren described a call heard by himself as being extremely strong and of steady pitch, lasting for up to forty-five seconds, and resembling "jets flying over low." Grunts, growls, and groans are also sometimes described, as well as a toad-like "groak" in Salinas' account. When shot, it produces an "extraordinarily loud, human-like scream." A very strong and unpleasant smell is frequently described, compared to a mixture of faeces and rotting flesh; garlic vine (Mansoa alliacea) and a foetid peccary; a skunk; or simply described as "just the worst odor they ever smelled." The smell leaves people light-headed and nauseous, or even renders them unconscious.
Although most who have not seen it regard it as a myth, Amazonian people greatly fear the mapinguari as a dangerous creature. There are several stories of entire villages moving after discovering its tracks or hearing its "terrifying" calls, and according to Oren, people will make every effort to avoid a mapinguari if they know one is in the area. Folklore describes the mapinguari as having relationships with other rainforest animals. It is said to be followed around by swarms of flies or herds of peccaries, and a number of claimed eyewitness have alleged to have seen a mapinguari while hunting peccaries. Those who believe in the mapinguari as a spirit see it as a protector of the rainforest which punishes hunters who kill more animals than they need to do to survive.
David Oren has taken casts of a number of tracks which he believes may have been made by the mapinguari. According to Oren, one such cast, about an 1'' deep, shows a knuckle-walking track with three digits.
According to some reports, Oren has also recorded a minute-long call which he believes was made by the mapinguari. During Pat Spain's Beast Hunter investigation, a strange call may have been heard in response to a modified sloth call, but it is unclear if it was picked up by the recording equipment. Josh Gates' investigation for Destination Truth also recorded an animal call which a former Los Angeles zookeeper was unable to identify.
David Oren also owns a photograph of "claw marks on a tree, eight of them about a foot long and an inch deep". Oren has collected several hair samples which he believed may have come from the mapinguari, but testing results were mostly inconclusive, although in one case a tuft of hair he found turned out to come from an agouti. Results of testing of alleged mapinguari dung were inconclusive, and in one case some fecal matter collected by Oren was identified as giant anteater or tapir dung. Geneticist and skunk ape investigator John Lewis claimed to have extracted ground sloth DNA from alleged mapinguari faeces which he stepped in during a 2001 expedition to Brazil.
In 1902, Bolivian writer José Aguirre de Achá mentioned a launch from Antimary named the Mapinguary. In the very early 20th Century, the mapinguari mainly appeared in the stories of rubber tappers, forest labourers, and caboclos, and was regarded by more urban populations as a myth originally created as an excuse for the rubber tappers to avoid work. An early European reference to the legendary mapinguari dates to 1923, in an issue of the Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, in which the mapinguari is briefly described as an evil "genie," or spirit, of the forest in Tupi belief.
While he was chief administrator of Serra Pelada, a mining camp in southeastern Pará, scientist David Gueiros Vieira noticed that "many reliable contemporary Amazonians have stories of first-hand contact with the mapinguari," and collected several first-hand sightings from gold miners. Since speaking with Vieira, David Oren has collected over ninety accounts of the mapinguari or animals like it, and as of 2002 had interviewed seven hunters who claimed to have shot specimens, in Amazonas (Eirunepé, Manicoré, and Carauarí), Acre (the Parque Nacional da Serra do Divisor), Pará (Marabá), and Mato Grosso (Juína). Three hunters claimed to have captured living mapinguaris "in quite recent times," but all three animals escaped because the men were unable to bear the stench.
A mapinguari was said to have been killed by gold miners in Rondônia, a two days walk from Porto Velho. Another gold prospector claimed to have shot a "giant monkey" covered in reddish fur, which charged at him in the forest. He shot it in the face and then fainted, and when he came to the animal had gone. When Oren investigated the area, he found a pool of blood and "round paw-prints with marks of clawed toes pointing inwards".
In one oft-repeated sighting which occured near Barra de São Manoel on the Tapajós River, a hunter named Manuel Vitorino Pinheiro dos Santos shot four peccaries before hearing the call of the mapinguari. He fled to the river as the second call shook the trees themselves, and hid under the water. The calls became muffled as the animal seemed to move deeper into the jungle, but Manuel remained hiding for hours.
Several sightings of the kida harara have occured on the Karitiana reservation, especially near an area known as the "Cave of the Mapinguari" southwest of Kyõwã. In one of the earliest reported sightings, a hunter named Valdemiro who approached the cave was startled by a "terrifying cry," followed by the animal itself emerging from the cave. Valdemiro noticed that the animal balanced on the sides of its feet, holding its claws inwards.
In one incident, a Karitiana man named Moaci was out hunting when he saw what he believed was a giant anteater, due to its claws; but when the animal stood up, it was taller than a man. Moaci fled, pursued by the animal, and hid himself under a tree, which the animal attempted to uproot. In an account given to Pat Spain, two men were driving in their car when a kida harara came out of the forest. They hid, and it moved away.
In another account collected by Spain, a man named Edinalo was attacked by a large, smelly, hairy animal which broke his jaw when he went into the forest. Overwhelmed by the smell, he blacked out, was later found by friends, and eventually recovered. However, the encounter was so terrifying for him that he quit his job and refused to enter the forest again.
Sightings have also been reported from the Venezuelan border. During his expeditions to Kurupira-tepui on the border of Brazil and Venezuela, Jaroslav Mareš received a description of the mapinguari from the region's Waiká Indians, many of whom claimed to have seen mapinguaris. Richard Terry's guide Samuel recounted to Terry a story told by his grandfather about a mapinguari encounter in the remote border region between Brazil and Venezuela:
Terry himself also collected various accounts of the mapinguari: a woman was gathering fruit near her house when she was disturbed by a mapinguari, prompting her to flee back to her house; a native hunter was stalking peccaries when a mapinguari emerged from the trees, frightening him off; a man was cooking dinner inside his hut when the entire straw roof was torn off. He fled outside, only to be attacked by a mapinguari.
In 1913, a seringueiro named Leoncio was alleged to have killed a macaco de barracha, which appeared suddenly in front of him while he was travelling a trail in the bush near Acre's Môa River. Leoncio, terrified, fired at the animal fifteen times, hitting it in the navel and the arm, killing it.
In 1930, an explorer named Inocêncio or Inocèncio was exploring the Urubu River with ten friends, but became lost in pursuit of a troop of black monkeys which he intended to shoot. He became seperated from his friends and was spending the night in a tree when he was disturbed by what sounded like a man crying out three times, before a large animal approached:
After spending the night in the tree, the next morning Inocêncio disovered broken shrubs, splashes of blood, and a strong, sour smell permeating the whole area. Bernard Heuvelmans received the story from Anna Isabel de Sa Leitao Texeira, who in turn obtained it from Paulo Saldanha Sobrino, a Brazilian writer, whose source was Inocêncio himself.
According to a 1935 report originating in Jornal do Commercio, two men hunting near the Upper Maracapuru River discovered humanoid footprints, measuring two-and-a-half hands in length, on the banks of Lake Comprido. In the same area, broken branches quite high in the trees were believed to demonstrate the passage of some enormous unknown animal. Local people believed the footprints were made by a mapinguari or a caapora.
A 1937 report from central Brazil claimed that a mapinguari had gone on a three-week rampage, killing over 100 cows and ripping out the tongues from their carcasses.
According to a caboclo interviewed in 1960, "[the mapinguari] has been seen by workers who are clearing the road which will link Acre to Brasilia".
In 1975, a mine worker working as a hunter named Mário Pereira de Souza claimed to have come face to face with a mapinguari in a mining camp near the Rio Jamauchim. He heard a screaming noise, and the animal approached him, unsteadily, on its hind legs, leading him to flee. Supposedly, he never went into the jungle again. Although George Eberhart describes Souza claiming to have encountered a mapinguari, Karl Shuker writes that he specifically claimed to have seen a "very large ground sloth," and does not include the sighting in his coverage of the mapinguari.
A group of Kanamarí Indians living in the Rio Juruá valley claimed to have raised two infant mapinguaris (or, explicitly, "sloths") on bananas and milk after their mother was scared off by hunters. After some time they progressed to feeding on foliage, but "after one or two years the unbearable smell of their skin prompted the Indians to release them."
A Brazilian man (Teofelo) and his daughter (Lydia) living in Valeria recounted to Pat Spain that in September 1981, Lydia was at the edge of the forest near her house at night, when she was startled by by a howling noise. She fled to her father, who grabbed a gun and went to untie his cow. He saw an animal outside which he identified as the mapinguari, and shot at it before fleeing back to his house. The next day, all of the villagers moved, and settled by the edge of the river.
Another eyewitness named Joao Batista Azevedo claimed to have seen a mapinguari in 1981 following a 45-day canoe trip from the nearest village:
1985 or 1986
Mapinguari investigator Luis Jorge Salinas' interest in the cryptid originated in a number of sightings which he claims he made on a roadside farm 38 kilometers from Manaus when he was 24 years old, between May 1985 and May 1986. At that time, he and the farm's other inhabitants were troubled by a frequent nighttime howling, "impressive, mournful, and frightening," which some locals believed were made by a lobisomem or "paçalobo," superwolf. Salinas shot a young one of these animals in the face when it approached the farm one night, driving it into the forest and perhaps killing it. Later on during the same night, Salinas claims to have observed a much larger individual of the same species standing where the shooting had occurred, "moving its head from side to side, roaring with an uncontrolled, grisly fury".
Some time later, Salinas observed a group of individuals composed of a male, several females, and a young calf, moving down the road, apparently keeping in order by toad-like vocalisations and head bobbing. They entered a mango plantation to feed on the trees, the females feeding the calf by cutting up small pieces of food in her mouth. The herd disappeared into the trees after being disturbed by a group of passing people from another local farm.
Salinas claims that his final good sighting occurred sometime later, on the same road, when during a dark afternoon he encountered a female, "frozen with her muzzle against the floor". The animal fled into some shrubbery, becoming entangled in a fence over which it jumped, before galloping across open country. However, Salinas also states that the animals also galloped past another farm, about 18 kilometers away but on the same road, for several nights. He later discovered an account of another mapinguari sighting from near Manaus, also dating from 1985.
In 1988, a colleague of David Oren claimed to have encountered a mapinguari in the forests of the north of Tocantins. Oren was sure the man was not lying, and as he heard the story, "a light went off in [his] brain [...] this creature could only be a ground sloth!".
Sometime in the late 1990's Dutch primatologist Marc van Roosmalen heard that a tribe along the river Rio Purus found mapinguari footprints near their settlement, and moved their houses to the other side of the river out of fear. When asked if he believed the mapinguari really existed, Van Roosmalen answered: "I'm not going to say it's not possible. Who am I to say that?"
Luis Jorge Salinas references a 1997 mapinguari sighting reported from near the Araguaia River, in Brazil's east Amazonian Pará State, as well as a sighting from the Peruvian border made at the same time, near a place called San Antonio.
On a preliminary expedition in Spring 1993, David Oren discovered footprints and heard the roaring of an unknown animal four times on two separate occasions, in the afternoon and early night.
A Karitiana man named Geovaldo claimed to have encountered a mapinguari (or kida harara) in 2003, 2004, or 2005, near an area called "the Cave of the Mapinguari," although he gives conflicting accounts of the sighting. In the first report, he simply said he had seen it and been knocked unconcious by the smell:
This account was confirmed by Geovaldo's father Lucas, who said that when his son took him back to the site of the encounter, he saw a cleared pathway where the creature had departed, "as if a boulder had rolled through and knocked down all the trees and vines".
In the slightly different account given later on Beast Hunter, Geovaldo actually shot the animal. He said he was hunting wild pigs when he was attacked by a mapinguari. He fired at it multiple times before loading his gun with a lead slug, and firing at the animals face. The mapinguari stopped and screamed in pain, and Geovaldo escaped. Interviewed for Destination Truth in 2008, Geovaldo said that he saw the mapinguari when he went out to hunt, shot at it, and ran off when it charged at him.
According to Luis Jorge Salinas, a mapinguari sighting was reported from Itacoatiara, 270 kilometers downstream of Manaus in Brazil's Amazonas State, in 2005.
A group of acai berrypickers in Brazil's Sumaúma Forest Reserve on the Japiim River reported seeing a cyclopean mapinguari in September 2014. Whilst in a remote area of forest five hours away from the nearest village, the harvesters heard a cry:
The men fled back to the river to spend the night in their tent, but the creature appeared again, and they returned to their village in their canoe during the night, abandoning their equipment. Some of the men could not sleep for days, and as of October 2014, none of the people of the village had dared return to the forest.
Writing in 1993, Oren feared that the mapinguari may had recently become extinct: first-hand reports from Amapá in northeast Amazonas all came from elderly woodsmen, and Oren had no records of any sightings from the Tapajós River basin from within the previous twenty years. He noted that "long gestation periods, large size, probable large territory size and hostile relations with local human populations are a classical formula for extinction of mammals around the world". However, while he believed that it had very recently been extirpated from the eastern Amazon, he thought that small numbers could still exist in the far west of the Brazilian Amazon, in Amazonas and Acre.
More sightings (including killings) have been reported since then, into the 21st Century, and in 1999, cryptozoologist Richard Freeman listed it as one of the ten cryptids most likely to be discovered in the 21st Century, alongside the thylacine, Delcourt's giant gecko, giant anacondas, the yeti, orang-pendek, megalania, giant eels, the mokele-mbembe, and the lusca: he considered that "sightings of a monster that resembles a mylodont sloth stretch coincidence to breaking point". Karl Shuker writes regarding the mapinguari:
David Oren notes that the mapinguari is regarded as mythical by most Amazonian people who have not seen it, and that for every one person who gave him a first-hand account, four laughed at him. Many eyewitnesses he interviewed said that they "did not believe in the existence of this animal until [they] came face to face with it. [They were] sure it was just one more fantastical tale from the rain forest." Most scientists claim the mapinguari is a purely mythical creature.
Oren, having collected more than a hundred accounts of people who claimed to have seen the animal for themselves, contests this, writing that "there is just too much evidence that I have accumulated over the past nine years indicating there may indeed be a very large mammal out there unknown to man". Although Oren initially believed the mapinguari to be just another jungle legend, he became convinced of the sincerity of the reputable eyewitnesses he spoke to. Every claimed witness he interviewed gave a very similar description of the mapinguari's appearance, feeding habits, tracks, and faeces, leading him to write that "it is virtually impossible for the different individuais interviewed to have had contact with one another and "conspired" to fabricate the same version of a truly mythical creature." He suggests that the legend of the mapinguari was created to apply to the real animal, just as most animals have native myths surrounding them.
Coleman asked "if David Oren would be surprised to discover that he is a skeptic of Mapinguary reports, according to Wikipedia," and Oren appeared on the TV show Beast Man four years later, supporting the ground sloth theory.
Some zoologists who have heard stories of the mapinguari have suggested that it sounds more like a bear than a sloth or an ape, and it has often been theorised that sightings could be explained by spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) seasonally coming down from the cold mountains during the winter, into Brazil's warmer climate. However, wild bears have never been recorded in Brazil, and Oren notes that the Peruvian segamai, which may be the same animal as the mapinguari, is described by the Machiguenga people as a totally different kind of animal to a bear, with which they are familiar. Questioned by naturalist Richard Rasmussen, Salinas was certain that the animals he had seen were not bears.
Loren Coleman has also suggested some connection between the mapinguari and giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) attacks in Brazil: giant anteaters stand bipedally to strike out and "bear-hug" with their claws.
During Pat Spain's "animal identity parade" interview with Geovaldo for Beast Man, the animals which he is shown (onscreen) to have no reaction to are an African elephant, a Bengal tiger, a spectacled bear, a white rhinoceros, and a gorilla. He showed no recognition of the spectacled bear, and thought the gorilla could be some sort of monkey. Geovaldo recognised the giant anteater and stated that the animal he had seen was "much, much different," with the only slight similarity being in the arms.
Cryptozoologists including Bernard Heuvelmans, Ivan T. Sanderson, and Loren Coleman have traditionally regarded the mapinguari as a bipedal primate similar to an ape, like other South American cryptids including the curupiru or the didi of Guyana, which is sometimes considered to be the same animal. Though this theory is no longer so popular as it once was, it is defended by cryptozoologists including Dale A. Drinnon, Mark A. Hall and Loren Coleman, who notes that certain sightings cannot refer to ground sloths. While Drinnon argues that the mapinguari itself is a primate, he does not contest the possibility of ground sloth survival in the Amazon, arguing only that the name "mapinguari" does not refer to them.
The earliest descriptions and sightings described an animal more like a primate, and according to Coleman, the animal responsible for pulling the tongues out of cattle—if they were not simply scavenged—must have had enormous strength and great hand dexterity, comparable to a hominoid primate. Heuvelmans came to the same conclusion, writing that the strength and dexterity required implies some sort of large "ogre". Large monkeys twice the size of modern howlers did exist in Late Pleistocene Brazil, including Protopithecus and Caipora, but were endemic to the Atlantic Forest on the east coast.
Giant ground sloth
The well-known theory that the mapinguari could be an extant ground sloth was first posited by David Oren, who has gathered more than a hundred claimed sightings during his time in Brazilian Amazonia. He initially regarded the mapinguari as a myth, but after speaking with a number of people in the Tapajós River basin who claimed to have seen it, Oren came to believe that the animal being described could only be a ground sloth.
In a 1993 paper for Goeldiana Zoologia, Oren demonstrated how each of the mapinguari's characteristics, as they were then known, were consistent with a human-sized mylodontid ground sloth. Almost all known hair samples from mummified ground sloths are reddish in colour. They are believed to have walked with their claws turned inwards, which would give rise to stories of backwards feet, as the unusual curvature would lead people to interpret the tracks the wrong way around, and fossil ground sloth tracks have been misinterpreted as giant human footprints, which they closely resemble in the past (Heuvelmans attributed backwards footprints in Asia to bears for similar reasons). Oren suggests that the more common, round track attributed to the mapinguari could be the imprint of the tip of its powerful tail. The fossilised faeces of ground sloths are almost identical to those of horses, just like the mapinguari. The mapinguari's reputed invulnerability could be explained twofold, by a mylodontids triple-layered bone ossicles covering the shoulders, back, and thighs, as well as the powerful, almost-fused ribcage present in some ground sloths—the combination of both characteristics would explain why only a shot to the navel or face can kill a mapinguari. Although ground sloths are famous for their great size, not all were so large, and since forest animals are frequently smaller than their open-environment cousins, it would make sense for a jungle ground sloth to be smaller. Oren's study of ground sloth hyoid bones suggested to him that they would have been capable of loud vocalisations, as indeed modern sloths are. Only the monkey-like face is inconsistent with what is known of ground sloths, but Oren suggested that some species could have had such faces, as the tree sloths do.
When Oren proposed a mylodontid identity, he had not spoken to anyone who claimed to have killed a specimen, and the hunters he spoke to afterwards did not mention the more fantastic traits, and gave details which both reinforced the ground sloth theory—including a head like a horse as opposed to a monkey, a slightly larger size and build, and hooked claws like those of an anteater—and suggested a slightly different familial identity, including four peg-like "canine teeth". Following the hunters' accounts, Oren modified his theory, suggesting that the mapinguari would be a megalonychid, not mylodontid, ground sloth: megalonychids, almost alone amongst the ground sloths, had frontal caniniform teeth (though some mylodontids like Lestodon Glossotherium had canine teeth), and walked on the soles of their hind feet, so a sloth with "fangs" and a flat-footed locomotion could only be a megalonychid. Reconstructions of Megalonyx have twice been identified as the mapinguari by claimed eyewitnesses (Geovaldo and Salinas). Although megalonychids did not have ossicles like mylodontids, they still had very powerful ribcages. Additionally, some accounts ascribe the mapinguari's invulnerability to its hair, not any sort of armour—although the Karitiana kida harara, which is supposed to have fangs, is said to have "pebbles" under its skin. Oren also admitted that the hunters did not describe a ground sloth-like tail.
Theories related to ground sloths have also been put forward to explain some of the mapinguari's more fantastic characteristics. Oren originally suggested that the abdomen mouth (which is not always described) could be a specialised scent gland which discharges a foul smell (which is almost always described) as a defense mechanism. Josh Gates, on the other hand, suggested that the description of a stomach mouth could be derived from people getting a bad look at a bipedal ground sloth holding its claws, which curve upwards, in front of its abdomen.
At least eight genera of ground sloths are known from the Pleistocene western Amazon, which was then more covered in more open habitat, including two megatheriids, two megalonychids, and four mylodontids. There is no consensus regarding the reason for their apparent extinction. Brad Rancy theorised that the expansion of the warm, wet rainforest wiped them out, leading Oren to suggest that a smallish species already living in the tropical gallery forests which existed in the Late Pleistocene could have survived. Bernard Heuvelmans, confident that the ground sloths were hunted to extinction (or near-extinction), suggested that their numbers were pushed back to the forested regions by pressure from human hunting to the north and the south, and questioned why a medium-sized ground sloth could not survive in woodlands or jungle clearings uninhabited by man.
In Pat Spain's investigation into the kida harara, a slowed-down sloth call was blasted in the rainforest. Spain believed he may have got a vocal response which sounded similar to his modified sloth call. Eyewitness Geovaldo was shown images of various animals, both South American and African. Geovaldo identified the South American animals (the spectacled bear excepted), but not the African ones, as would be expected. When an image of the ground sloth Megalonyx was shown, Geovaldo unhesitatingly nodded and identified it as what he had seen, stating that "it was kind of like that. I think that was the animal. I really think that looks like it. Its arms were just like that." One difference he noted was that the claws on what he saw were similar, but even larger—other than that, it had the same body, the same arms, and the same face.
Other Amazonian cryptids similar to the ape-like mapinguari include the curupira, didi, mono grande, and pé de garrafa. The sisemité of Belize has also been connected to it. Other possible living ground sloths in the Amazon - many of which are frequently regarded as regional names for the mapinguari - include the kida harara of Brazil, the jucucu of Bolivia, the segamai of Peru, the Ecuadorean ground sloth, and the Orinoco giant sloth. More broadly, any alleged living ground sloths in South America and beyond are sometimes equated with the mapinguari.
In popular culture
- Alongside the curupira, the mapinguari is a common character in modern Brazilian folklore and popular culture. Consequently, only popular culture which depicts the mapinguari as a giant sloth are featured here.
- Televised searches for the mapinguari (or kida harara) include Destination Truth (2008) with Josh Gates, Beast Man (2011) with Pat Spain, Man v. Monster (2011) with Richard Terry, and Finding Bigfoot (2015). Notably, the first two of these searches both came up with minor evidence for the mapinguari's existence: Spain blasted a slowed-down recording of a sloth call, and got a response; whilst Gates recorded an unidentifiable sound coming from a region where some palms had just been torn down. Both these investigations took place on the Karitiana tribe reservation, in Rondônia. Richard Terry, investigating elsewhere, also recorded a large, unidentifiable shape with a night-vision camera.
- The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life (2006), a companion book to the Walking With... series, notes that ground sloth reports have come out of the Andean foothills, but the sloth in question is incorrectly identified as the giant Megatherium.
- A mapinguari is featured as a boss in the upcoming Amazonian-themed video game Tunche (2020), in which it is depicted as a giant sloth.
Selected sightings map
Notes and references
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-57607-283-5
- Mareš, Jaroslav (2005) Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství, MOTTO, ISBN 9788072462995
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Coleman, Loren & Clark, Jerome (1999) Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0684856025
- Oren, David "Did Ground Sloths Survive to Recent Times in the Amazon Region?" Goeldiana Zoologia (1993)
- Heuvelmans, Bernard "Annotated Checklist of Apparently Unknown Animals With Which Cryptozoology Is Concerned", Cryptozoology, No. 5 (1986)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. "A Supplement to Dr Bernard Heuvelmans' Checklist of Cryptozoological Animals," Fortean Studies 5 (1998)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (1995) In Search of Prehistoric Survivors: Do Giant 'Extinct' Creatures Still Exist?, Blandford, ISBN 9780713-724691
- Felipe Ferreira Vander Velden "Sobre caes e indios: domesticidade, classificacao zoologica e relacao humano-animal entre os Karitiana," Revista de Antropología 15 (2009) p. 125-143
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- Oren, David "Does the Endangered Xenarthran Fauna of Amazonia Include Remnant Ground Sloths?" Xenarthra (2001)
- Unknown Episode. Sightings: Series ?, Episode ?.
- Salinas, Luis Jorge (2010) Amazonas: ¿Pleistoceno Park? Un Testimonio Real, Edición de LULU, ISBN 0557520665
- Sanderson, Ivan T. (1961) Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, Adventures Unlimited Press (2019 edition), ISBN 978-1948803038
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- Aguirre de Achá, José (1902) De los Andes al Amazonas
- Tastevin, P. G. "Les Pétroglyphes de la Pedrera, Río Caquetá (Colombie), Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, Vol. 15 (1923)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2010) Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times, CFZ Press, ISBN 978-1-905723-62-1
- "Return of the Mapinguari," Animals & Men #21
- Rohter, Larry "A Huge Amazon Monster Is Only A Myth. Or Is It?," The New York Times (8 June 2007); online at nytimes.com [Accessed 19 January 2014]
- "The Giant Sloth". Into the Unknown: Series ?, Episode ?.
- Woolheater, Craig Cryptomundo >> Man v. Monster: Brazilian Bigfoot on Nat Geo Wild Tonight! cryptomundo.com [Accessed 2014]
- Man V Monster: Brazilian Bigfoot
- Redfern, Nick (2015) The Bigfoot Book: The Encyclopedia of Sasquatch, Yeti and Cryptid Primates
- "Um Animal Monstro," A Noite (4 December 1935)
- "Amazon Primatologist Shakes Family Tree For New Monkeys," Chicago Tribune (11 June 1999)
- Bosco, João Catadores de acai afirmam ter visto um Mapinguari - Jornal O NORTAO onortao.com.br [Accessed 2015]
- Williams, Jan "Giant Ground Sloths in Amazonia?," Animals & Men #1
- Freeman, Richard "Monsters of the Next Millennium," Animals & Men #20
- "Jungle Search," Rocky Mountain News (21 February 1994)
- Coleman, Loren Mapinguary Madness cryptozoonews.com [Accessed 19 June 2020]
- Coleman, Loren Loren Coleman on Twitter: "Giant Anteaters Kill Two Hunters in Brazil" twitter.com [Accessed 19 June 2020]