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No. 97: Jan-Feb 1995

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Possible Survival Of Giant Sloths In South America

For many years, rumors have been filtering out of trackless western Amazonia telling of a 6-foot, 500-pound giant sloth clothed in reddish hair. Rubber gatherers of the region report that this fearsome creature emits a hideous odor and transfixes one with a paralyzing stare! It also seems impervious to spears and shotgun pellets. Natives and some cryptozoologists equate this animal to the legendary Mapinguari.

P. J. Wynne's impression of South America's late-surviving giant sloth
P. J. Wynne's impression of South America's late-surviving giant sloth.
D.C. Owen, an American biologist working with the Goeldi Natural History Museum in Belem, Brazil, has been tracking these stories. The present fossil record asserts that giant ground sloths resembling the supposed Mapinguari did occupy western Amazonia up to about 8700 years ago. To this must be added the appearance of an apparently fresh skin of the animal in 1897. Even more recently, gold miners are said to have killed a giant sloth. As with the North American Bigfoot, hard data are elusive, particularly actual specimens, dead or alive.

Owen is optimistic, however. He sees his hunt for the Mapinguari as more than just another useless monster hunt:

"If South America's largest terrestrial mammal has been hidden to science until 1994, what else does the Amazon have in terms of biodiversity that's new to us?"

(Stolzenberg, William; "Bigfoot of the Amazon," Nature Conservancy, p. 7, July/August 1994. Anonymous; "The Mother of All Sloths," Fortean Times, no. 77, p. 17, October/November 1994.)

Comment. Where is the 1897 skin? What happened to the sloth killed by the gold miners? Cryptozoology has always been plagued by disappearing critical evidence!

The possible survival of the giant sloth is covered in greater depth under BMD11 in our catalog: Biological Anomalies: Mammals II. See description here.

From Science Frontiers #97, JAN-FEB 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987