Posted by: Craig Woolheater on October 24th, 2005
Several years back, actually in August of 1999 or so, I ran across a very interesting article in Discover magazine. It chronicled an ornithologist named David Oren’s treks into the Amazon in search of the Mapinguari, what is thought to be the still living giant ground sloth. The article detailed the derision that Oren suffered from his fellow scientists. Some interesting quotes from the article:
“Oren has gathered a certain amount of derision in the scientific community over the last few years because of his determination to keep tramping through the jungle in search of the giant ground sloth. His detractors suspect he’s as likely to find the beast as other adventurers are to find Bigfoot, the mythical creature said to be roaming the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.”
I felt that this article had many parallels to Bigfoot research. The Mapinguari was known to the locals, much as the anecdotal evidence we are collecting regarding sightings of Bigfoot here in our country.
“One might argue how much faith Oren should put in anecdotal evidence provided to him by 50 or so people who say they’ve had encounters with the sloth. Still, it seems odd that scientists, of all people, would question the search for anything thought to be elusive or even impossible to find. Think of the naysayers who used to scoff every time Carl Sagan said there had to be other planets orbiting other suns in other solar systems; now other planets are discovered so often it’s hard to keep track of how many there are.”
People think that every inch of the earth has been explored. Quite the contrary…
“You’d think that the science establishment, having been proven wrong so many times, would adopt a bit more humility. If there’s one thing we keep learning, it’s that we don’t know as much as we think we do. Holloway says, ‘People seem to have trouble admitting that not everything has been found. The Amazon is a huge, largely unexplored area.’”
She is hoping Oren will find his elusive beast, if only to offer the doubters a little comeuppance: “We have a lot of hubris about nature, and when we find things we don’t expect, it shows us that nature is more complicated than we ever guessed and that there must be a lot more to find.” She is impressed that, wherever he goes, Oren treats other people as equals. That respect has led him to trust accounts many have given him of encounters with the beast. It seems ironic that Oren himself isn’t offered the same level of respect and trust by some of his peers.
“Other scientists are willing to accept more on faith. ‘What a bankrupt world it would be if you refused to believe things existed until you actually had seen a specimen in a museum. I mean, there are lots of things we are prepared to believe exist without having seen them,’ says Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Kent Redford.”
As a matter of fact, the descriptions of the creature in question sounded more like a bipedal primate than a giant ground sloth to me.
“Covered in long red hair, standing more than 6 feet on its hind legs, emanating a stench so foul it disorients everyone in sniffing distance, the mapinguari is reputed to be the wildest, rarest, most mysterious and terrifying denizen of the rain forest. The mapinguari is also said to be another Bigfoot, a figment of the imagination of people like Dos Santos–and of a prominent scientist named David C. Oren, whose relentless quest to find one is growing as legendary as the beast itself.”
Full article from the September 1999 issue of Discover Magazine available here.