|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
Seeking Monsters in Jungle Wilds
The human race, as we know it now, is certain to disappear from the earth within a million or so years. This is the startling statement made by Dr. W. D. Matthew, chief paleontologist of the fossils department of the American Museum of Natural History.
Another astounding declaration by the noted scientist is that there is a perfectly reasonable possibility that descendants of certain types of prehistoric creatures hitherto believed to be extinct may still be living and roaming wild unexplored sections of the globe.
Strange things happen in the movies. In the First National film version of Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," for example, an adventurous party of explorers comes upon living dinosaurs in South America. After the most harrowing experiences they capture one of these huge monsters and take it alive to London, where it escapes, runs amuck in Piccadilly, bowls over pedestrians and omnibuses, and in general terrorizes the city.
It is a strange, fantastic tale that intrigues one's interest and perhaps taxes one's credulity, but fact, as has often been said, is sometimes stranger than fiction. There seems to be ground for the possibility that so-called prehistoric creatures of enormous size and strength still inhabit the earth. At any rate, the scientific world is seeking conclusive evidence along that line.
The possibility that descendants of the great reptilian dinosaurs of the Mesozoic and Jurassic Ages still live is from time to time given impetus by reports from various isolated sections of the world. These have come spasmodically from such regions as Mongolia, Africa, and even the frigid zones. The latest field of rumors is South America.
For two years Professor Elmer S. Riggs of the Field Museum, Chicago, has been down in South America searching for fossils, and, incidentally, looking for living dinosaurs, if any exist. He is still there.
Of course, the main purpose of Professor Riggs' expedition has been to find fossils. But at the same time he has been investigating the reports of travelers telling of glimpses they have had of a strange monster, unlike any sort of bird, fish or reptile known to be alive within man's memory.
A little over two years ago this creature was first said to be wallowing in the mud of the Andean Lake region; then, more recently, it was reported roaming the region of Chubut in the unexplored territory of the Argentine.
The creature has been variously described as great griffin, a giant sloth, an awesome variety of snake and as a dinosaurus. One description outlines it as a turtle with a swishing tail, flappers or fins for legs, an immense protruding neck, as long as its body, at the end of which it wags a comparatively small head, principally mouth, well equipped with a double row of sharply pointed bent teeth. The monster was said to be perhaps twenty feet long. It is hardly strange that the few wayfarers who have reported seeing it did not remain long in its vicinity, and it is perhaps no less strange that their descriptions vary.
These stories fascinated Professor Riggs. He fitted out a beast and fossil hunting expedition and sailed from Buenos Ayres for Patagonia on December 22, 1922. Before sailing Professor Riggs called on Professor Clement Onelli, Director of the Buenos Ayres Zoological Garden, and obtained from him information about the reported monster. Professor Onelli told him that, in spite of the failure of a group of Argentine explorers to find prehistoric creatures, reports of a living pleseosaurus were still coming in from the region of Chubut. Although the finding of fossils of extinct creatures was his chief object, Professor Riggs before his departure declared, jestingly or otherwise, to Professor Onelli that "If I meet a dinosaur of any kind, I'll put a lariat around his neck and lead him to the zoo."
The Riggs party proceeded to Rio Gallegos from whence it journeyed northward on horseback along the coast of the territory of Santa Cruz. In this region they remained through the entire southern summer, and then Professor Rises and his companions moved northward and into the interior, going even to southern Bolivia, in search of pleistocene specimens and the living dinosaur itself. At the time the expedition started out Professor Riggs expected to remain in Argentina about a year and a half. Two years have passed, and Professor Riggs is still there. At present he is believed to be in the wilds of Patagonia, and he is not expected to return to America before spring. Whether or not he has come upon the living dinosaur has not yet been made known, but from time to time Professor Riggs has been submitting reports on the progress of the expedition to Dr. W D. Matthew, chief paleontologist of the fossils department of the American Museum of Natural History in .New York.
"It can be said, however, without any breach of confidence," declared Dr. Matthew the other day, "that Professor Riggs has made some very valuable fossil finds in South America. As to the nature of these finds and the results of his investigation of reports of the existence of a supposedly living dinosaur the public must wait until Professor Riggs is prepared to make known his discoveries. It is safe to say, however, that Professor Riggs shall have something very interesting to submit."
Among the larger dinosaurs, according to Dr. Matthew, it is generally the fossils of either the brontosaurus or the diplodocus that are found in South America. The brontosaurus is the heavier of the two, though the diplodocus runs to a greater length, having a long, snaky neck and a smaller head. The reconstructed fossils of one diplodocus reveals that it is 87 feet in length.
Dr. Matthew was somewhat skeptical as to the explorer's chance of finding alive one of the larger species of dinosaur. "But of course, he qualified, "we can't always foretell what may happen, and we can only await Professor Riggs' report."
"It is perfectly possible, however," said Dr. Matthew, "that living giant sloths and glyptodonts, descended from prehistoric times, might be found. The giant sloth was simply a larger edition of the present day sloth, a matured specimen weighing from ten to twelve tons. The glyptodonts were armadillo-like creatures, with a massive shell around the short, solid body. The body would be about six feet in length plus a tail eight to nine feet in length. An average glyptodont would probably weigh about two tons. Fossils of the giant sloth have been found in this country. The heel bone of one was found by A. R. LeDoux, while in swimming at Long Branch in 1870, and was presented by him to the American Museum of Natural History in 1919."
Dr. Matthew said some particularly fine specimens of dinosaur had been found in Patagonia quite recently. A number of these of the brontosaurus type, he said ranged from 60 to 80 feet in length. Some years ago a great collection of fossils of the giant ground sloth and the toxodont, a creature that looked like a rhinoceros, was found in the caves of southern Brazil and more recently in another part of Brazil a further collection of similar fossils was secured by Dr. O. C. Farrington for the Field Museum of Natural History. Southern Bolivia, the Purus River region in western Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Chili have given up valuable fossil finds, according to Matthew.
"It is the general rule that in time all races of creatures disappear," said Dr. Matthew, when asked why he was skeptical about the reported existence today of dinosaur types.
"Do you mean by that, then, that in time the human race will disappear?" he was asked.
"Yes," he replied, "the human race will disappear as we know it today. It may continue in a different form, but the human being will not look or act or be the same as is today, we perhaps wouldn't recognize our descendants of a million or more years from now. It is the history of the world. We are not the same today as we were centuries ago."
"Since you admit that the human being may continue living millions of years from now, though in a different form. Isn't it possible then that the descendants of great dinosaurs of ages ago are still living today in South America, though in different form, which may account for the strange descriptions given them?"
"Your point is very well taken," replied the noted scientist. "When you put it that way, I can only say that it is possible thing, but so improbable that it is almost an impossibility."
"Then why do you say it is perfectly possible that living glyptodonts and giant sloths could be found in South America?"
"Because the fossils of these creatures found there show that they could not have been dead for so very long. There is evidence also that the giant sloth had actually been domesticated by man. Remains of extraordinary freshness have been found near Last Hope inlet off the Straits of Magellan.
"As to rumors of living dinosaurs, these come out about every two years. We're just about due for another now. This time it'll probably come from the Antarctic, where the dinosaur could grow a fat layer of blubber and a thick coat of fur."
Raymond Lee Ditmars, curator of the New York Zoological Gardens, pointed out that should any expedition to South America be successful in capturing alive one of the larger species of dinosaur the captive would not be warmly welcomed at the Bronx Zoo.
"For," said he, "should the captive be a tyrannosaurus, a great thing rearing twenty feet high that stalked around on its hind legs and ran faster than any horse, we would have our troubles keeping his hunger appeased. He could swallow a deer at a gulp. About six might make him one meal."
Zanesville, Ohio, Signal, November 29, 1925.