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BioFortean Review: Reprints

—"Catch Him Alive!"
Hunt of All Times to Mighty, Mammoth Plesiosaurus, Last on Earth,

that is on its way to penetrate the Patagonian jungle.

In addition to their tanks and traps and caterpillar tractors the hunters are taking along a few machine guns and rifles that fire explosive bullets—since the S.P.C.A. objects so strenuously to harpoons—but these weapons, of course, will be only for protection in a last emergency.

And the best of it is that they really have started! It isn't a mere yarn by some Buenos Aires bally-hoo writer or some Patagonian press agent. The search may have to continue for months, and in the end it may be in vain, but it has begun. It is an adventure to make the average small boy lie awake nights consumed with envy—to make the sourest grown-up pessimist realize that there is some romance still left in the world.

Dr. William Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Garden, says, "So many seemingly impossible things have been discovered in recent times that it is a dangerous thing to make an assertion covering the whole world and say that no such animal exists."

Out at Northwestern and Chicago universities they are in a state of fine excitement and belief. They are talking of putting an expedition in the field themselves. Elmer S. Riggs, curator of the Field Museum, at Chicago, may head it. He attaches great importance to the report of Martin Sheffield, and his greatest fear is that if the monster does exist Professor Onelli may "beat him to it."

Just what manner of creature will they have on their hands if they do catch a plesiosaurus and bring him back alive? What will the Sunday afternoon crowds at the zoo see when they gaze through the steel bars of the huge enclosure with its little wooden sign with its unfamiliar five-syllabled name which they will mispronounce while they gaze on the imprisoned monster and try to feed him peanuts?

The artist who has made the big drawing on this page gives you a fairly accurate idea. He worked from pictures and "restorations" made by the scientists at the American Museum of Natural History. From the skeleton, which is shown in the photograph at the right—and which is the actual fossil skeleton of a real plesiosaurus—the biologists are able to "reconstruct" and tell you approximately how the living creature looked.

The period in which it flourished is called the Mesozoic, and dates back several millions of years. Mankind, according to the teachings of science, appeared about 500,000 years ago. It was probably ten million years earlier that the plesiosaurus roamed the world.

Science has generally taught that all of these prehistoric reptilian monsters have long since disappeared, but the story from Patagonia revives a widespread belief that some of them have lived from generation to generation and still exist in isolated savage portions of the globe.

If the plesiosaurus is really alive, and they catch him, and you are fortunate enough to visit the zoological garden where he is kept, exactly what you will see, in simple language, is a gigantic lizard sixty to eighty feet long. Sauros is the Greek word that means lizard. Plesios means near. So a plesiosaurus, in plain English, is a near-lizard. He is like a lizard, but not entirely like one, for his head is more like that of a dragon, and he has sharp teeth. Also he has flappers like a seal instead of feet.

As to what your chances are of ever seeing one opinion, of course, differs. Yet Martin Sheffield is by no means the only man who has testified to seeing a plesiosaurus alive in that region of South America.

Lieutenant-commander O. Bavilaqua, commander of the U.S.S. Kaweah, now at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, says that in 1906, while in the Straits of Magellan, about 500 yards off the coast of Patagonia, he saw the monster one afternoon while on watch.

"The visibility was high, and I do not believe I could have been mistaken," he said. "I was scanning the sky-line toward the shore and I heard a splash and saw a huge ice-covered boulder splash into the sea from the high, rocky shore. A moment later a large animal appeared at the point from which the boulder had dropped and looked out toward me. The head was shaped like that of a horse and the neck was fully thirty feet long. It was not a huge turtle, because turtles do not have necks of that length. I am equally sure that it was not a snake, for it had a great body, and snakes do not live in such ice and snow as existed on the coast at that season."

Charles Johnson Post, who spent two years in South American jungles gathering material for his work, also tells of having heard at first hand of a monster strikingly similar to a plesiosaurus.

"I was in Riba Alte," he says, "an Indian village in Bolivia, west of the Falls of Madeira. The monster, which I believed a plesiosaurus, had been seen by an Indian near Lake Rogoguada, about 250 miles to the south. This country is unexplored. I don't think a white man has ever seen this lake or its neighbor, Lake Rogoguada, but they are generally believed by scientists to exist.

'"One day a half-breed came to the village with a story of having seen a strange animal which terrified him. I thought it significant that the man who knew the fauna of the section thoroughly and was afraid of nothing, should have suddenly become alarmed. Evidently he had seen some new animal.

"The man was what was called a cruiser. He went through this section of the jungle looking for rubber. While in the region of Rogoguada he had come upon a trail through the dense tropical undergrowth made by some great animal. I told him that the trail was that of a snake.

"'No, no,' the half-breed replied; 'it was not the trail of a snake.' He then went on to explain that the animal had something which resembled feet, but which were not feet, and something that resembled a turtle's flappers, yet were not flappers.

"A short time later the half-breed said he saw in a shallow part of the lake an animal with a long neck and a head. I cross-examined him, but he stuck to the story, giving such a description in his primitive way that I immediately thought of a plesiosaurus. The half-breed had shot at the animal and it disappeared under the water. He was not to be persuaded that he had seen either a snake or a turtle,

"If a white man had told me such a story," continued Mr. Post, "I might not have believed it. But the half-breed was too simple and primitive to have attempted a joke. He had never seen a scientific book or any other work which could have created in his mind the pictures of the plesiosaurus which he conveyed to me.

"I do not maintain that this was a plesiosaurus exactly like the prehistoric species, but I think that quite likely it was a modification. It probably was an unknown species. It seems to me altogether probable that the essential characteristics of the animal have survived in some form. For instance, the duck-billed platypus, found in Australia, is a survival from prehistoric ages. It is half animal, half bird. It lays eggs and also suckles its young. The kangaroo is also a survival. Yet if Australia had been previously unexplored and some traveller came from there with stories of such animals, he would not be believed."

So Professor Onelli and his expedition are on their way into Patagonia to find the plesiosaurus, if he does exist, and to "catch him alive," if they can. And the whole world is waiting with keenest interest the outcome of the great adventure.

Charleston, West Virginia, Daily Mail, April 9, 1922.

Historical Reprints:

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Blue Tiger

Lake Champlain Mystery

Missionaries and Monsters

Cryptobotany Fiction