A “tapir-nymph” sounds cute, cheeky and cuddly, especially when it has droopy ears. Unfortunately the Tapirê-iauara is none of these things.
So we’re back in the Amazon Basin for yet another hairy beast that snarfs down fishermen. It’s not quite as terrifying as Mapinguari, since it lacks a horrifying cyclops eye or an all-devouring belly-button, but it finds other ways to be startling. It was apparently first reported during the Spanish conquests of 1519-1521, but like other unexplained mysteries of the time, no one can really agree on it.
Although described as pig-like, it’s about the size of a cow, with the floppy ears of Brahman cattle as well as a spotless jaguar’s head, and its waterproof fur veers between red, grey, or black with a pale bib. Its feet are even more of a mystery, not least because they’re usually hidden underwater, but depending on the region, they could be horse, donkey, otter or jaguar-like, or even two different pairs to mix things up a bit. It seems to prefer slow-moving water or mangrove swamps in parts of Brazil and Venezuela, and this is where it usually hunts its prey.
Chomping on pretty much everything from capybara rodents to caiman mini-crocs, the Tapirê-iauara won’t turn its nose up at the odd fisherman either. Several stories include attacks on boats, and in another, a pair of hammocks. Striking in the dead of night, it dragged one unfortunate occupant underwater, while the other only escaped by scrambling up a tree. Humans aren’t completely helpless though, because one fisherman managed to kill it by emptying 12 .22 rifle bullets into it. Don’t get any ideas though, because even a firearm wouldn’t always save you.
It’s not just the slashing claws and teeth; there’s something far worse accompanying the slapping of its ears on the water as it approaches. Here’s a tip – don’t open your mouth to laugh at that.
Its stench nose no bounds
Attracted to meat, as well as the halitosis you get from eating undercooked fish, the Tapirê-iauara is known for its hideous smell. It can be so overpowering it can make you faint, outright kill you, or more bizarrely, make your shadow – and therefore your soul – flee from your body. The only way to get it back again is to inhale the fumes of a fire made with leaves, sticks, and the bones of uncooked piranhas. And if you’re planning to eat said uncooked piranhas, better pop some chewing gum or you’ll be back to square one.
For the imminent threat of monster-in-the-face, you can fight smell with smell with some resin from the caraña tree, because the Tapirê-iauara finds its scent equally unpleasant. Then again, even without its howlingly awful odour, the beast can still mesmerise you on the spot.
But such a nightmarish image (and smell) has its benefits, environmentally speaking.
Warden of the woods
According to Professor Nigel Smith and Dr. Fabio de Castro, stories of terrifying beasts patrolling swamps and rivers has historically protected flood plains from over-fishing and farming. I’d definitely avoid somewhere if I thought there was a stinking beast nearby, so who knows, maybe fake news would be useful in environmentally fragile areas?
I’d recommend a more terrifying design, though.
What? Cow-sized river monster with a jaguar’s head and floppy ears that eats or wards off fishermen
Where? Amazon Basin, mainly Brazil and parts of Venezuela, near slow-moving rivers and mangrove swamps
How big? About the size of a cow
Probable motto: That’s right, laugh at my ears. Take a deep breath before you do, though!
Just to prove I’m not fibbing (about the mythology anyway!)
de Castro, Fabio. 2002. “From myths to rules: the evolution of local management in the Amazonian floodplain“. Environment and History 8(2):197-216.
Montgomery, Sy. 2001. Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest. Touchstone (Simon & Schuster).
Smith, Nigel. 1983. “Enchanted forest:folk belief in fearsome spirits has helped conserve the resources of the Amazon jungle“. Natural History 92(8):14-20.
“Tapirê-iauara“. 2015. A Book of Creatures.
“Tapirê-iauara“. 2018. The Mythical Creatures Catalogue.
Featured image credit: “Tapirê-iauara”, by Shan Ahmed.