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In Brazilian folklore, the mapinguari or mapinguary, also called the juma,[1] is a monstrous entity said to live in the Amazon rainforest. While the figure is generally recognized among biologists as entirely fictional, biologist David Oren and members of the cryptozoology subculture have promoted the notion that oral tradition about the entity may represent a living ground sloth, considered extinct for thousands of years by the scientific community.


According to Felipe Ferreira Vander Velden, its name is a contraction of the Tupi-Guarani words "mbaé," "pi," and "guari", meaning "a thing that has a bent [or] crooked foot [or] paw".[2] Other names which have been said to apply to the same being include the Karitiana kida harara,[2] and the Machiguenga segamai.[1][3]

David Oren and cryptozoology[edit]

While generally rejected among biologists, David Oren has speculated that the mapinguari could be a surviving ground sloth, such as a mylodont or a megalonychid.

Zoologists generally regard the creature as fictional.[3] Some biologists have speculated that the creature's place in Amazon folklore may stem from cultural memory of the now extinct giant ground sloth.[4] Some researchers also have suggested that it sounds more like a bear than anything else.[1] In 2007, American anthropologist and enthnobiologist Glenn Shepard Jr said, "At the very least, what we have here is an ancient remembrance of a giant sloth, like those found in Chile recently, that humans have come into contact with ... Let me put it this way: Just because we know that mermaids and sirens are myths doesn't mean that manatees don't exist."[3]

American ornithologist David Oren proposes that the creature may represent a living ground sloth. As of 2001, Oren had spoken to between fifty and eighty indigenous Brazilians, rubber planters, and miners who claimed to have seen, and seven hunters who claimed to have shot, mapinguaris or other unknown animals with which Oren equates the mapinguari, in or near Eirunepé, Manicoré, and Carauarí in Amazonas; Marabá in Pará; the Parque Nacional da Serra do Divisor in Acre; Juína in Mato Grosso; and Tocantins. The seven hunters all claimed not to have saved any remains due to their terrible odour, which they claimed made them nauseous and light-headed.[1]

According to Oren, he was told in the 1990s by the hunters that the mapinguari is an animal with long reddish, blackish, or brownish fur; a powerful build and a height of around 2 metres when standing on its hind legs; claws shaped like those of the giant anteater, but the size of a giant armadillo's; a muzzle like that of a horse, but shorter; a short but stout tail; four large canine teeth; a very strong and unpleasant smell compared to a mixture of faeces and rotting flesh; and the ability to walk both quadrupedally and bipedally. Six of the seven hunters claimed that they had to shoot the mapinguaris they killed in the head with special slugs of solid lead, whilst the seventh hunter claimed to have emptied his .38 caliber revolver into the animal's chest.[1]

Oren initially thought the mapinguari must be a mylodontid ground sloth, suggesting that a mylodont's osteoderms, curved feet, and heavy tail tip could explain the mapinguari's more inexplicable purported characteristics of bulletproof skin, backwards feet, and bottle-shaped footprints.[5] However, after receiving more details from the seven hunters who claimed to have shot specimens, Oren changed his view and theorised that the mapinguari would be a megalonychid, not a mylodontid, ground sloth, on account of its alleged canine teeth and locomotion.[1]

Together with paleontologist and ground sloth specialist Greg McDonald of the U.S. National Park Service, Oren agreed to appear on a Discovery Channel special on location at the Amazon basin where he expected he might find a Mapinguari. Oren attempted to lure the creature by employing sounds he speculated would draw the animal. He received no response. A hired Amazon guide identified a dung sample as likely that of a Mapinguari but DNA testing revealed it to be that of an anteater.[6]

The search of giant ground sloths has been the subject of interest to some members of the cryptozoology pseudoscientific subculture, who have taken an interest in Oren's theories. Paul S. Martin notes that cryptozoologist figures frequently appear on television, and lack the "healthy skepticism" found in biology. Martin notes that "like the public at large, [cryptozoologists] are drawn to charismatic megafauna much more to small creatures such as anthropods". Highlighting that that giant ground sloths have been absent from the archaeological record for thousands of years, Martin says that there is "no chance" that Oren and cryptozoologists are correct that the creature from Amazon folklore stems from a living ground sloth. He adds that he wishes he wrong due in part to the conservation resources such a profound discovery would provide for the region.[6] Founding cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans has additionally speculated that the mapinguari referred to undescribed primates.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Oren, David C. "Does the Endangered Xenarthran Fauna of Amazonia Include Remnant Ground Sloths?," Edentata (June 2001) p. 2-5
  2. ^ a b 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
  3. ^ a b c Rohter, Larry (2007-07-08). "A Huge Amazon Monster Is Only a Myth. Or Is It?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-30.
  4. ^ Shepard (2002:131).
  5. ^ Oren, David C. "Did Ground Sloths Survive to Recent Times in the Amazon Region?," Edentata (1993) p. 1-11
  6. ^ a b Martin (2007:98-99).