Brazil (Reuters) - Imagine this: a hairy, six-foot monster, howling and
stinking of death, crossing your path in the semi-darkness under the canopy
of the mighty Amazon jungle.
Indians, legend has it that such a creature stalks the forests like a
tropical Abominable Snowman -- never photographed or captured.
species called ``Mapinguari,'' or giant defenders of the forests, by the
Indians, is also known to the thousands of hunters that brave the forests
every year. One such person, Joao Batista Azevedo, says he saw a Mapinguari
20 years ago after a 45-day canoe ride from the nearest village.``I was
working by the river when I heard a scream, a horrible scream,'' the now
70-year-old Azevedo told Reuters by telephone from his remote Amazon village.
``Suddenly something looking like a man came out of the forest, all covered
in hair. He was walking on two legs and thank God he did not come toward
us. I will always remember that day.''Veteran
Amazon ornithologist David Oren takes such stories very seriously. So
much, in fact, that since 1988 he has been on a quest to find one of the
creatures in the name of science and has led several expeditions into
the depths of the world's largest rain forest to hunt for it.``It's still
being sited regularly.
Several people think they came face to face with
the Devil in the forest,'' he says of people like Azevedo who have helped
guide him on his search. He believes there are dozens left. Oren's theory
is that the beast could be the world's last living giant ground sloth
-- a distant relative of existing tree sloths -- that became extinct more
than 10,000 years ago.
has cost him dearly, he says, in the often conservative scientific community
where reputation is everything. The National Geographic (news - web sites)
Society turned him down and he has funded his expeditions largely with
his own money.Paul Martin,
a Meritus Professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona and leading
expert on the theory that humans were responsible for the extinction of
such animals as the giant ground sloth, is one skeptic.
TOO LATE?``I think
he is 13,000 years too late. This sure does sound like the hunt for a
Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster,'' Martin said. ``The part of me that
is completely romantic is rooting for David Oren. But where the science
part of me is concerned I don't give him a chance.''Oren argues
that a kind of giant ground sloth could still be alive in the Amazon because
the forests offer huge, remote areas providing the necessary isolation
to survive. Thick and impenetrable, the Amazon's continuous forest covers
an area larger than all of Western Europe and is home to up to 30 percent
of the world's animal and plant life.Scientists
say giant ground sloths were in abundance across the Americas, evidenced
by fossil finds of such creatures in places as far apart as Patagonia
in the south to the northwest of the United States.
could have moved to the Amazon to escape hunting and encroachment of man
on its natural habitat elsewhere.Claudio
Padua, a doctor of ecology who teaches at the University of Brasilia,
is one of the few scientists prepared to believe Oren because the Amazon
is still hiding thousands of undiscovered species.``It would
be the find of the century, it would have an extraordinary impact'' if
found, said Padua.
out that 10 species of monkeys were discovered in the Amazon in the last
decade. ``As a scientist I accept that everything is possible until there
is proof to the contrary,'' he said.
a well-respected scientist, Oren is originally American but now carries
a Brazilian (news - web sites) passport. He first came to the Amazon in
1977 and for years worked for the Emilio Goeldi Museum in Belem -- one
of Brazil's foremost Amazon research centers.While he
plugged away mapping the biological makeup of the Amazon, his fame may
be best-connected with the Mapinguari.Oren moved
this year from Belem to take up a post with U.S. environmental group Nature
Conservancy in Brasilia, thousands of miles from the Amazon, making it
very difficult for him to hunt the Mapinguari. So has he lost his belief?Not at all,
Indeed in June, just after leaving, he wrote his second scientific
article in a decade on the beast, presenting all his evidence.``When I
wrote the 1993 paper, I had never interviewed anyone who had claimed to
have killed one of these supposed animals,'' he wrote in the newsletter
of the World Conservation Union's Edentate Specialist Group.
He has now
talked to seven hunters who claim to have shot the animal and another
80 people who have seen it, he says.``What they
describe: a creature approximately two meters (six feet) tall when standing
upright; a very strong, unpleasant smell; extremely heavy and powerful
build; capable of breaking thick roots with its footsteps,'' the article
says. Most likely
a defense mechanism, the smell is described by some witnesses as a mixture
of feces and rotting flesh.
the beast has long coarse fur, four large teeth and that it moves on two
or four legs. It also has an ''extremely loud, roaring vocalization ...
similar to a human calling loudly, but with a growl at the end.''In fact,
on his expeditions, Oren says he himself yelled into the darkness and
it howled back to him.
In his Brasilia
villa, Oren keeps more evidence that includes a clay mold of a footprint,
about an inch deep, with three large toes. The toes face backward because
the creature walks on its knuckles, he says.A series
of pictures includes a photo of claw marks on a tree, eight of them about
a foot long and an inch deep.But there
are big holes in the story.
For one, the hunters who say they shot it
did not keep any fragment of the creature, apparently throwing the parts
away due to the strong stench.Oren remains
convinced though, arguing that the story needs to be widely published
to ensure that if one is shot again its remains are inspected by scientists.And despite
the skepticism of many, there's no doubt scientists are fascinated by
thrilled out of my mind if he (Oren) succeeded, it would be in my wildest
dreams,'' said Martin.
``We (humans) resonate with these large animals,
so everybody in town is going to feel the emotion of such a find.''
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