Nature today is filled with some truly bizarre and breathtaking species, but even the most majestic creatures alive cannot compare to species from the past, in particular, those that roamed the planet during the Pleistocene period, or, as it is more commonly known, “the ice age”.
However, imagine if a handful of these prehistoric creatures survived into modern times, if these sightings are to be believed, this may well be the case.
5The Giant Ground Sloth
Standing as tall as an elephant, weighing 4 tonnes and equipped with huge claws, the ground sloth is a far cry from its slow modern ancestor. These huge, shaggy beasts had a wide range, living throughout much of North and South America. Although the ground sloth was a herbivore, it’s huge bulk and wickedly sharp claws mean it would have commanded respect from even the fiercest predators, although it's believed to have gone extinct around 10,000 years ago.
However, in the dense Amazon sightings persist of a strange creature locals call the “Mapinguari” described as massive, furry with huge claws and a vicious attitude. Could it be possible that a population of giant ground sloths survived the ice age in South America, one of their last strongholds, and now live in the near impenetrable depths of the Amazon?
4The Short-Faced Bear
The largest land predator alive today is the formidable polar bear, standing up to 10 feet tall and weighing more than 800 pounds it is king of its domain, but it’s a teddy bear in comparison to its ancient cousin.
Standing 13 feet on its hind legs, weighing in just shy of a tonne and with a mouth big enough to fit a human skull inside with room to spare, Arctodus, or as it's better known, “the short-faced bear” is the biggest meat-eating mammal ever to walk on land. This brutish bear roamed Ice Age North America hunting down bison and horses, and even chasing off other predators from their kills in order to fufill its appetite. Though scientists speculate it died out around 10,000 BC, there are strange sightings which could suggest Arctodus made it through.
Native American legends have always told of bears much bigger than the usual that cannot be harmed by spears and bows. In 1854 Inuit hunters in Northern Canada shot a huge bear unlike any they’d seen before, so they contacted naturalist Robert Macfarlane. Upon examining the skin and skull of the specimen Macfarlane found that its fur was a light yellow, unlike the brown and black bears of the region, and its skull was unlike any bear he had ever seen. Macfarlane declared the specimen a new species.
Sadly, the remains are too old and degraded to be examined conclusively today, so the true identity of “Macfarlane’s bear” still remains inconclusive.
Mammals weren’t the only family to grow to huge sizes during the ice age, hidden away on the isolated island of New Zealand was the Moa, a gigantic flightless bird that stood 12 feet tall and weighed more than a horse. Despite its imposing size, the Moa was, in fact, a peaceful plant eater, and this was inevitably it’s downfall as when settlers from Polynesia arrived they found the slow, gentle Moa an easy target, and they were hunted to extinction around 12,000 years ago.
However, rumours persist of the Moa’s existence on the island, with locals reporting strange bird calls unlike any ever heard before, and huge, three-toed tracks having been allegedly found in the dense forests.
The most compelling piece of evidence comes in the form of a 1993 photograph taken by hotel owner Paddy Freaney. Freaney claims that he and two others were hiking in the mountains of Arthur’s Pass where they spotted the huge bird standing next to a stream. Upon seeing the group the Ma fled, but Freaney was able to take what he claims was a hasty photograph of the bird running away. The photo itself is unfortunately too blurry as to be readily identified.
Australia is well known for its vast array of unique wildlife, like the platypus or echidna, but during the Pleistocene era the animals were even stranger, and they all lived in fear of one creature, the Megalania.
Nothing like Megalania had walked the earth since the days of the dinosaurs, a gigantic monitor lizard bigger than a crocodile with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth lined with venom that stalked the deserts of Australia preying on anything it could catch, including Aborigines. In fact, the Megalania was so terrifying that it is still talked about to this day in Aboriginal folklore. So, imagine if this living nightmare had survived until the present? European settlers recorded sightings of “massive lizards” as soon as they arrived on the Australian continent, and in 1890 newspapers reported an Australian village was besieged by a massive, unknown reptile which killed livestock.
But much more recent sightings have been reported, for example, in 1970 a surveyor in Alice Springs reported that while doing his job he saw what he at first believed to be a large log suddenly stand up and skulk off into the undergrowth. In 1979 Australian cryptozoologist Rex Gilroy was contacted by a cattle farmer who claimed he saw a lizard in excess of 20 feet long on his property one morning and plaster casts were made of its tracks. Gilroy also related a story that a former Australian special ops soldier who wished to remain anonymous had told him; while on a training exercise in the rainforests of the Normanby Range, his unit came upon a dead cow which had been dragged into the jungle and ripped to pieces, all around its body were huge lizard tracks, up to two feet across.
Arguably the most iconic of all ice age creatures, the saber-toothed cat, or Smilodon, were killing machines, huge, fast and massively powerful. The Smilodon would pounce upon prey, wrestle it down and then put its famous 11-inch fangs to lethal use, severing the jugular vein and windpipe in one ruthless bite. Truly a fearsome beast the Sabertooth family conquered both South and North America up until the very end of the Ice age.
The locals of the Ennedi plateau in Chad, Africa tell tales of a big cat unlike the others that live there, they say it is much bigger, with dark fur and black stripes and, most tellingly of all, its fangs protrude from its mouth. In 1910, French missionaries traversing the Bamingui River reported that one of their party was attacked and killed by what they only described as “a water tiger”, and in 1920 not far from where the incident occurred hunter and naturalist Marcel Harley came across a dead hippo that was covered in massive slash wounds.
Most recently of all in 1975 while on a hunting expedition on the plateau Christian Le Noel heard a strange roaring coming from a nearby cave, his local guide claimed it was the sound of the fabled big cat, and he refused to carry on the hunt.
Is it possible that the apex predator of the Ice age has survived in this remote corner of Africa, cut off from the rest of the world?