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The Lost World: Mysterious Accounts of Living Dinosaurs in South America

Among the various mysterious creatures sighted and reported throughout the world there is one very distinctive category, and this is that of living dinosaurs, prowling the forests and jungles of our world as if they were never gone at all. Such fantastic reports come from a variety of places, in particular Africa with its saurian Mokele Mbembe and others, but another lesser-known location for accounts of supposed surviving dinosaurs is the wilds of South America. Here among the jungles and even deserts of South America’s remote wildernesses have come truly bizarre accounts that seem to suggest that dinosaurs are perhaps alive and well, still stomping across the landscape as they always have.

Some rather cryptic reports came from the famed explorer Percy Fawcett, who is most well-known for his ambitious and ill-fated expedition in 1925 to find a lost city he was convinced existed in the forgotten depths of the Amazon jungle, a journey during which he would vanish off the face of the earth to become one of the most baffling disappearances in history. I have written of Fawcett and his various expeditions in much more depth here at Mysterious Universe before, but one of the more interesting aspects of his adventures are all of the strange and mysterious creatures he allegedly encountered along the way. Among the cyanide-shooting millipedes, acid-spewing ants, double-nosed dogs, cat-dog hybrids, and giant snakes and giant spiders, it also seems that he may have very well seen and heard of actual living dinosaurs out there in the badlands of those murky unexplored jungles. Some of these accounts were told to him by others, such as an account he wrote of in a letter in 1919, in which he writes of a strange, dinosaur-like creature supposedly lurking in the jungles of Bolivia, saying:

A friend of mine, a trader in the rivers and for whose honesty I can vouch, saw in somewhere about Lat. 12 S. and Long. 65 W. [Bolivia-Brazil borderland] the head and neck of a huge reptile of the character of the brontosaurus. It was a question of who was scared most, for it precipitately withdrew, with a plunging which suggested an enormous bulk. The savages appear to be familiar with the existence and tracks of the beast, although I have never come across any of the latter myself…These swamps over immense areas are virtually impenetrable.

Percy Fawcett

Fawcett made another brief mention in his many notes of something very strange, large, and seemingly very much like a dinosaur in the wilds of Bolivia, of which he wrote:

Some mysterious and enormous beast has frequently been disturbed in the swamps – possibly a primeval monster like those reported in other parts of the continent. Certainly tracks have been found belonging to no known animal – huge tracks, far greater than could have been made by any species we know.

It is maddeningly brief and lacking in detail, which was a bit odd for Fawcett, who normally went to great lengths to take meticulous and detailed notes during his expeditions. There is also the fact that this creature, whatever it was, is mentioned nowhere else in his journals and is not brought up again, making it frustratingly unclear as to what exactly he saw out there in those uncharted jungles. Percy also at several points mentions hearing from natives of enormous, mysterious tracks along the Acre River, near where the borders of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil collide, although these people had never actually seen the elusive creature that had made them.

Another early explorer of South America who wrote of possible living dinosaurs in the region was a German by the name of Franz Herrmann Schmidt, who in October of 1907 was exploring the inhospitable Peruvian interior along with a Capt. Rudolph Pfleng and some native guides. Upon coming to a valley they claim that they found an area along the Solimes River to be oddly devoid of any water animals such as alligators and aquatic snakes, or indeed any life at all, and they came across some unusual massive footprints in the mud. The guides reportedly became quite upset and agitated at this discovery, and warned them to head back, but they apparently camped there anyway. The next day fresh tracks were purportedly found along the river near the camp, and Pfleng announced that he had decided that he was going to follow them to see where they led. Shortly after this, there was a commotion in the jungle as the monkeys and birds screamed and shrieked and a large dark shape crashed about in the brush, which sent one of the spooked Indian guides scurrying for safety in one of the canoes. Schmidt would write of the incident:

One of the excited Indians began to paddle the boat away from the shore, and before we could stop him we were 100 feet from the waterline. Now we could see nothing and the Indians absolutely refused to put in again, while neither Pfleng nor myself [sic] cared to lay down our rifles to paddle. There was a great moving of plants and a sound like heavy slaps of a great paddle, mingled with the cries of some of the monkeys moving rapidly away from the lake…. For a full 10 minutes there was silence, then the green growth began to stir again, and coming back to the lake we beheld the frightful monster that I shall now describe.

 

The head appeared over bushes 10 feet tall. It was about the size of a beer keg and was shaped like that of a tapir, as if the snout was used for pulling things or taking hold of them. The eyes were small and dull and set in like those of an alligator. Despite the half dried mud, we could see that the neck, which was very snakelike, only thicker in proportion, was rough knotted like an alligator’s side rather than his back.

 

Evidently the animal saw nothing odd in us, if he noticed us, and advanced till he was no more than 150 feet away. We could see part of the body, which I should judge to have been eight or nine feet thick at the shoulders, if that word may be used, since there were no fore legs, only some great heavy clawed flippers. The surface was like that of the neck.

It is all rather dramatic and harrowing enough to be sure, but it apparently got even more so when Pfleng whipped his rifle up and took a shot at it, as it seems humans are wont to do when facing the unknown, which apparently ricocheted off of its bony head. Schmidt also fired at it, and this time hit it in the base of the neck, which also seemed to have little effect. According to Schmidt’s account, they then began unloading their weapons on the massive creature in unison, which sent it fleeing into the muddy water. Schmidt would say of what happened next:

As quickly as we could fire we pumped seven shots into it, and I believe all struck. They seemed to annoy the creature but not to work any injury. Suddenly it plunged forward in a silly clumsy fashion. The Indians nearly upset the dugout getting away, and both Pfleng and I missed the sight as it entered the water. I was very anxious to see its hind legs, if it had any. I looked again only in time to see the last of it leave the land -a heavy blunt tail with rough horny lumps. The head was visible still, though the body was hidden by the splash. From the instant’s opportunity I should say that the creature was 35 feet long, with at least 12 of this devoted to head and neck.

 

In three seconds there was nothing to be seen except the waves of the muddy water, the movements of the waterside growth and a monkey with its hind parts useless hauling himself up a tree top. As the Indians paddled frantically away I put a bullet through the poor thing to let it out of its misery. We had not gone a hundred yards before Pfleng called to me and pointed to the right. Above the water an eighth of a mile away appeared the head and neck of the monster. It must have dived and gone right under us. After a few seconds’ gaze it began to swim toward us, and as our bullets seemed to have no effect we took flight in earnest. Losing sight of it behind an island, we did not pick it up again and were just as well pleased.

It is certainly a very spectacular account, made all the weirder as it appears within an otherwise rather nondescript, even dull account of the expedition that is all rather credible and ordinary for the most part. It has been suggested that perhaps this report was an addition slipped in later or that Schmidt just made up the story to liven things up, but there is no way to tell. In remains another lost historical account buried in a forgotten explorer’s notes, with no way of checking its veracity and forever to linger in the realm of speculation.

Although Schmidt and company according to the report failed to slay the alleged savage beast, there have been other instances when a dinosaur of some sort was actually supposedly killed. A very dramatic report from the 19th century was included in an 1883 issue of Scientific American, in an article titled “A Bolivian Saurian,” in which the Brazilian Minister at La Paz, Bolivia, claimed that a very odd beast had been shot and killed in a remote area of the Beni River. The article would say of this:

The Brazilian Minister at La Paz, Bolivia, had remitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rio photographs of drawings of an extraordinary saurian killed on the Beni after receiving thirty-six balls. By order of the President of Bolivia the dried body, which had been preserved in Asuncion, was sent to La Paz.” The “monster” was reported to be twelve meters long (39 ft) from snout to point of the tail, which latter was flattened. It’s head resemblance the head of a dog and its legs were short, ending with formidable claws. The legs and abdomen sported a kind of scale armour, and all the back is protected by a still thicker and double cuirass, starting from behind the ears of the anterior head, and continuing to the tail. The neck is long, and the belly large and almost dragging on the ground.

The bizarre report is somewhat plausible as it appeared in a mostly respectable publication rather than on just a slow news day, giving it a bit of weight. The question is, what was this creature and where did the carcass go? Or was it all a hoax? No one really knows. Other explorers would encounter similarly bizarre beasts in the years after. Less than a decade after Fawcett’s doomed expedition there was an account from 1931 by explorer Harald Westin, who claimed to have seen a 20-foot long serpentine reptile like a snake but with stumpy legs along Brazil’s remote Rio Marmore. Then in 1946 there was the account of explorer Leonard Clark, who was traveling up Brazil’s Rio Perene when he reportedly heard from the region’s natives of a type of large, long-necked animals in the area that fed on plants.

Such strange accounts have persisted up into more recent years as well. In 1975 a Swiss businessman visited the Amazon and became acquainted with a local guide by the name of Sebastian Bastos, who spoke of immense long-necked beasts similar in appearance to dinosaurs that were known by the natives and which lurked in deep parts of rivers. Bastos would claim that one of his canoes had actually been destroyed by one of these monsters. Between the years of 1977 and 1980 a Silvano Lorenzoni claimed in a series of articles that there had been spotted “plesiosaur like things” in a lake atop a high plateau called Auyantepuy, in southeastern Venezuela. He also said that such plateaus had produced other reports of enormous reptilian creatures like something out of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, but his claims are all rather vague. Also as recently as 1995 was an account given by a group of geology students who came across two huge 30-foot long creatures with long-necks wading in the Paraguaçu River in the Sincora Mountain range of eastern Brazil.

One rather recent series of sightings of what seems to be a dinosaur of some sort roaming began in July of 2004 in the moonscape of the Atacama Desert area of Chile. The first sighting that made the news was that of a car full of people driving the main road linking Iquique and Arica during the evening. Within the vehicle were a Chilean Army official named Hernan Cuevas, his wife, and his two young children, and another man named Dario Riquelme. They were about 17 kilometers outside of Arica when what appeared to be two grey, hairless bipedal lizards about 7 feet high, with short arms and which, according to Cuevas, was “a huge beast, much like a two-legged dinosaur, with huge thighs” appeared out of the wasteland around them. The bizarre creatures allegedly sped across the road with swift strides to disappear into the night and they apparently stopped the car in shock and looked around but they could not find the creature again. However, they did find that they had left behind strange, three-toed footprints.

In that very same month another sighting came in of something similar in the same area. The Abett de la Torre Diaz family was driving along the same road at just about the same time in the evening when they claim that two 6-foot high creatures resembling “dog-faced kangaroos” jumped clear over their car with amazing agility, and that two more of the beasts then materialized from the dark to dart across the road, as if they were traveling in a pack. The startled witnesses did not see them for long, but mentioned that prominent sharp teeth were plainly visible. They apparently found a picture in a book of what resembled the creature they saw, and this was a type of dinosaur called a dromaeosaurid.

These reports prompted the TV show Destination Truth to travel to the region to investigate in 2009, and during their research they found that apparently other sightings of the same creatures had been made by other motorists as well in the same area, earning the creature the name “The Arica Monster.” The team also talked to a paleontologist at the University of Tarapaca named Caodero Santoro, who believes that it is possible that some sort of theropod could have remained undetected in the vast Atacama Desert and that it could survive in this harsh environment as long as it had enough food, water, and vegetation. The problem is, there is very little of any of these things in the Atacama Desert, it is one of the harshest, most inhospitable environments on earth, and this makes it difficult to figure out what these people could have possibly seen, if anything.

With its vast expanses of little-explored jungles and isolated remote areas, South America seems like just the sort of place where one might expect to find living dinosaurs, if such a thing exists. Yet, among all of these reports there is very little evidence at all other than witness testimony and the nature of such sightings is so sporadic that we are left to wonder just what these people actually saw, if they indeed really saw anything at all. We are left to merely speculate on these scattered accounts and wonder if the lost worlds of South America hold beasts from another age, still looming over the landscape as they did millions of years ago. Only the trees and the jungle creatures that crawl, skitter, and squirm through the trees and swamps really know for sure, whispering among themselves the answers we seek.