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Mylodon fur

A piece of Mylodon hide.

Other names: Grypotherium domesticum, Neomylodon listai
Country reported: Argentina, Chile

The Patagonian ground sloth was a cryptid ground sloth proposed to exist in Patagonia by Florentino Ameghino based on the discovery of exceedingly well-preserved skin fragments[1] and an alleged sighting by Ramón Lista.[2] Ameghino connected the animal with stories of the iemisch, and later writers with the succarath and ellengassen. The story caused quite a stir in turn-of-the-century Europe, and a British expedition was sent to Patagonia to search for more evidence.[3]

The skin

A German sheep rancher named Hermann Eberhard discovered the Cueva del Milodon in January 1895. Inside he found a large piece of hide, 1.5m long and about 70 to 80cm wide, which looked fresh but which he knew belonged to no known animal.[4] Eberhardt kept the skin hanging for a year, until he showed it to a visiting scientist, Nils Otto Gustaf Nordenskjöld, who found more pieces of skin and bones in the cave. His specimens were sent back to Sweden, where they were identified as Mylodon.[5] Francisco Moreno, curator of the La Plata Natural Sciences Museum, also took a piece of skin, and sent it back to his museum.

At this point, Florentino Ameghino wrote a paper on the Mylodon, allegedly based on a skin found by his brother Carlos, in which he expressed belief that the animal was still alive. He claimed to have been told by Carlos of "a mysterious quadruped which is said to exist in the interior of the territory of Santa Cruz, living in burrows hollowed out in the soil, and usually only coming out at night. Accordig to the reports of the Indians, it is a strange creature, with long claws and a terrifying appearance, impossible to kill because it has a body impenetrable alike to firearms and missiles".[1] He named the animal Neomylodon listai. His paper caused an uproar across the world, and led to several expeditions being sent out to find a live Mylodon. The Daily Express expedition under Hesketh Prichard, which did not actually reach the Cueva del Milodon,[2] was sent out after the English palaontologist Ray Lankester mentioned during a lecture that the Mylodon may still live.[6]

Mylodon statue

The Mylodon statue at the Cueva del Milodon, where the skin pieces were discovered.

Moreno, however, insisted that the skin was very old, and sent it to be examined by Sir Arthur Woodward in London, who initially backed Lista before deciding the skin was thousands of years old.

Ameghino now wrote a note connecting the skin with an animal called the iemisch, an aquatic monster which killed horses. Meanwhile, another scientist named Erland Nordenskjöld had visisted the cave and pronounced that the skin belonged to a different type of sloth, Glossotherium. Geologist Rudolf Hauthal also explored the cave, and declared that the sloths - Grypotherium domesticum - had been kept in there by the Indians in a semi-domesticated state.[2]

Further testing suggested that the skins found in the cave were around 10,000 years old, and preserved by climatic conditions. Neomylodon and Grypotherium are now considered synonymous with either Mylodon or Glossotherium.[2]

Sightings

circa late 1880's

Ameghino wrote that Ramón Lista, governor of Santa Cruz, told his brother Carlos Ameghino of a sighting he'd had of a large, hairy pangolin-like creature. He was riding in Santa Cruz when a large, shaggy, red-haired animal very much like a pangolin without scales appeared. He fired on it, but the bullets had no effect and the animal wandered off.[1][7][8][2][9] According to Ameghino, Lista described the animal as

"a pangolin (Manis), almost the same as the Indian one, both in size and in general aspect, except that in place of scales, it showed the body to be covered with a reddish grey hair. He was sure that if it were not a pangolin, it was certainly an edentate nearly allied to it."

Hesketh Prichard, who was sent to Patagonia to search for the Mylodon, could not find a record of the encounter in any of the books written by Lista, who was dead by the time of the skin's discovery.[8]

Expeditions

1900

Hesketh Prichard was sent to Patagonia to search for evidence of the Mylodon in 1900.[2] He found no evidence, and did not believe a large animal could live in Patagonia's dense Valdivian forests, which he did not explore. However, he admitted that "in addition to the regions visited by our Expedition, there are, as I have said, hundreds and hundreds of square miles about, and on both sides of the Andes, still unpenetrated by man. A large portion of this country is forested, and it would be presumptuous to say that in some hidden valley far beyond the present ken of man some prehistoric animal may not still exist. Patagonia is, however, not only vast, but so full of natural difficulties".[8]

2001

In 2001 Charlie Jacoby, the grandson of Hesketh Prichard, led an expedition to Patagonia to search for evidence of a live ground sloth.[10]

Further cryptozoological reading

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ameghino, Florentino (1898) An Existing Ground-Sloth in Patagonia
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals
  3. Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals
  4. Hauthal, R. (1899) Reseña de los Hallazgos en las Cavernas de Última Esperanza
  5. Lönnberg, E. (1899) On some remains of Neomylodon Listai Ameghino, brought home by the swedish expedition to Tierra del Fuego, 1895-1897
  6. Holland, W. (1913) To the River Plate and back : the narrative of a scientific mission to South America
  7. W. G. Ridewood (1901) On the Structure of the Hairs of Mylodon Listai and other South American Edentata
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Hesketh-Prichard, Hesketh (1902) Through the Heart of Patagonia
  9. Chatwin, Bruce (1977) In Patagonia
  10. Shuker, Karl (2010) Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times