Mapinguari is a mouthful of a name, especially for a creature that may or may not exist. But its meaning–usually translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast”–scertainly befits a giantic, lumbering red-toed sloth-like creature in the rainforests of Brazil and Bolivia.
Descriptions of the mapinguari vary, but a 1994 New Scientist article may provide one of the most evocative:
…a terrifying one-eyed creature which devours the head of its victims. It is covered in red hair and has a mouth in its belly.
Other references depict the mapinguari as having backward feet and possibly an eye in the middle of its forehead, like the cyclops who tried to devour Odysseus in Homer’s imagination.
Others have interpreted the image a bit differently:
in folklore, the mapinguari is different from other cryptids, because it doesn’t avoid human contact. Instead, it’s usually depicted as confronting and destroying those who don’t respect the natural world–a myth very similar to the Japanese movie monster Godzilla, when you stop to think about it. But the folk tales about the beast–and the number of people who’ve claimed to have seen it, over the years–are so ubuitious that it’s hard to dismiss them without a closer look.
And indeed, some scientists have noted that in the distant past, a giant sloth with at least a superficial resemblance to the mapinguari did exist. Megatherium americanum, which lived in the Americas from 1.9 million to 8,000 years ago, was one of the biggest land animals ever to inhabit the Earth. It weighed three and a half tons and had a body length of 20 feet. The creature was covered with long hair and had massive claws, and was capable or rearing and standing upright like a bear. Sound familiar?
David Oren, an American biologist working at the Goeldi Museum in Belem, Brazil, told New Scientist in 1994 that
he had spoken to Indians, rubber tapers and miners who claimed to have seen the mapinguari and in some cases, even tried to trap it. Some said they had been repelled when the beast emitted some sort of noxious gas.
In 1937, as the story goes, a mapinguari went on a grizzly rampage in central Brazil. Witnesses claimed that more than 100 cattle were found slaughtered, each with its tongue ripped from its mouth.
In this 2007 New York Times story, Geovaldo Karitiana, a 27 year-old member of the Karitiana tribe in the western Amazon, described his own alleged encounter with one of the beasts:
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.
Be sure to tune in tonight to Beast Hunter: Nightmare of the Amazon to get the full scoop. The Beast Hunter himself, Pat Spain will be live-tweeting the premiere… so be sure to ask @patrickspain all of your questions tonight!
Here’s a sneak peak of the show: