The pinchaque or panchique was a cryptid reported from the Colombian Andes, described as an elephantine animal, usually explained by either the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), which takes its specific name from the cryptid, or by a late-surviving Andean gomphothere (Cuvieronius hyodon). There is also limited iconographic evidence which may or may not support the late existence of a proboscidean such as the Andean or lowland gomphothere (Notiomastodon platensis).
Zoologist François Désiré Roulin (1796 – 1874) collected accounts of the pinchaque in the Andean regions of Cauca and Popayan, during the 1820s. While its appearance was always described in the same way, and it was always said to live in the eastern mountains, reports of its size were inconsistent. Some claimed it to to be the size of a horse, and others described it as enormous; several people in Popayan were firmly convinced that a very large quadruped existed in the mountains. Hunters had discovered very large dung balls, as well as tracks measuring 9'' or 10'' in width, and a tuft of long brownish hair caught on a branch some 8' or 10' in the air.
In 1849, an anonymous traveller in the Pasto Province (now the Nariño Department), a region of Colombia bordering Cauca in the north and Ecuador in the south, wrote to the Spanish magazine Semanario Pintoresco Español, claiming to have received a description of a very large mammal from locals of that province.
A black-ware pottery figure of what appears to be an elephant was allegedly unearthed at the Bolivian archaeological site of Tiahuanaco, which preserves artifacts dating back to between 300 AD and 1,000 AD. One article on the figure identifies it as a pyrothere, a vaguely elephant-like animal which lived in South America, but, as noted by Karl Shuker these animals disappear from the fossil record during the Oligocene, more than 20 million years ago, and would likely not have resembled elephants as closely as the statue. If it is intended to depict a genuine proboscidean, an alternate explanation is that it is a recently-created fake.
In his Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia During the Years 1823 and 1824 (1825), Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane R.N., who had resided and travelled in Colombia for some time, recorded in his entry for 12 January 1824, sightings of "carnivorous elephants," (i.e. mastodons, which were then suspected of having been carnivorous) in the Colombian Andes near Cartago, just below the snow line. Harold T. Wilkins and Jaroslav Mareš describe Cochrane as observing the elephants for himself. Cochrane was also the first to document the toxic secretions of poison dart frogs, and their use by Colombian Indians.
Roulin's investigation of the pinchaque led to his discovery of the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), which he believed was the sole identity behind the pinchaque. He explained the large tracks as tapir tracks expanded by geological processes, and the hair as belonging to the arboreal spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), and also determined that the large dung had been left by a tapir, on account of the undigested herbage found within it. Bernard Heuvelmans described the discovery of the mountain tapir, and the penetration of the mystification surrounding it, as the earliest example of a successful cryptozoological investigation. However, other contemporary authors believed that the pinchaque may have been a conflation of two different animals, the mountain tapir and a larger proboscidean. More recent authors such as Craig C. Downer and Philip Hershkovitz have also supported the possibility that the name might have referred to a now-extinct "mastodon".
According to Mareš, Captain Cochrane's account was originally mocked, although some took his story very seriously: John Ranking, who believed the existence of wild elephants in Colombia was certain, cited the report as positive evidence that the mastodon still lived. There is possible evidence that the Late Pleistocene Andean gomphothere (Cuvieronius hyodon) may have survived at least until 200 to 400 AD in the Andean regions: in Ecuador, near Quito, a complete skeleton of this gomphothere was discovered alongside a number of spearheads and pottery shards from this date. The South American Cuvieronius was endemic to the Andes, where it inhabited temperate to cold habitats in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile, and had a mixed diet.
In popular culture
- "Carnivorous Colombian elephants" like those reported by Captain Cochrane are discussed in the novel Novgorod the Great (2010) by Andrew Drummond.
Notes and references
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2016) Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors: The Creatures That Time Forgot?, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616463908
- Roulin, François Désiré (1835) Mémoire Pour Servir à l'Histoire du Tapir
- Anon. "Natural History in Foreign Countries," Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, Geology and Meteorology, Vol. 5 (1832)
- Anon. "Viage a la Nueva Granada," Semanario Pintoresco Español (1849) — Online
- Cochrane, Charles Stuart (1825) Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia During the Years 1823 and 1824, Vol. II — Online
- Wilkins, Harold T. (1950) Secret Cities of Old South America, Rider and Company, ISBN 978-1605203218
- Mareš, Jaroslav (2005) Kurupira: Zlověstné Tajemství, MOTTO, ISBN 9788072462995
- Heuvelmans, Bernard & Hopkins, Peter Gwynvay (2007) The Natural History Of Hidden Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-0710313331
- Downer, Craig C. "Status and Action Plan of the Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque)," Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan: Tapirs (1997) — Online
- Hershkovitz, Philip "Mammals of Northern Colombia, Preliminary Report No. 7: Tapirs (Genus Tapirus), with a Systematic Review of American Species," Proceedings of the United States National Museum, Vol. 103, No. 3329 (1954) — Online
- Ranking, John "Remarks on Some Quadrupeds Supposed by Naturalists to be Extinct," Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts (July-December 1827)