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Search fro Brazil Sloth Begins



Search For Brazil Sloth Starts
2/22/94

        RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- It's huge, smelly and cries like a
human being. And it would be the biggest mammal in the Amazon -- if
it exists.
        The giant sloth, a relative of an extinct great sloth that lived
8,700 years ago, has been reportedly sighted across the region. On
Tuesday, an American zoologist -- armed with a shotgun and an oxygen
mask -- set off to search for the animal.
        ``The number of details in reports of sightings makes me believe
it does indeed exist,'' David Oren told The Associated Press in a
phone interview Monday night from his office at the Goeldi Museum
in the eastern Amazon city of Belem.
        Oren, who will search for evidence in the rain forest of the
northwestern state of Rondonia, believes he can find the animal, or
at least the bones of one reportedly killed late last year by gold
miners.
        Oren said he planned to spend three weeks searching for the
carcass of the sloth, which allegedly was 6 feet long and weighed
660 pounds.
        From Belem, Oren was flying to Rondonia's capital of Porto
Velho, 2,320 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. Then, he planned to
continue by bus and on foot for about two days to reach the jungle
farm where the sloth was reportedly killed.
        Oren, of Boston, said he had arranged a meeting with the miners
who claimed to have killed the sloth.
        ``Hopefully they will be able to find the spot where they left
it,'' the 40-year-old zoologist said.
        Sloths are slow-moving, tree-dwelling mammals that hang upside
down from branches and feed on leaves and fruits. Much smaller
sloths, about the size of a house cat, live in tropical Central and
South America.
        In reporting the giant sloth, people across the Amazon have
described the same feces, eating habits, behavior, and bedding, he
said. According to most accounts, it eats palm-tree hearts and
other foliage, and becomes aggressive if its habitat is invaded.
        Oren interviewed Canamari Indians in the Jurua valley of
Amazonas state, north of Rondonia, who raised two infant sloths on
bananas and milk when hunters scared off the mother.
        ``Later, they were given foliage, and after one or two years the
unbearable smell of their skin prompted the Indians to release
them,'' Oren said.
        Oren thinks the fetid smell reportedly exuded by the animal
comes from a badly functioning stomach gland. He and his guide will
take along oxygen masks and shotguns on their search.
        It is widely believed among the Canamari that the giant sloths
are still alive. Canamari hunters say they see them occasionally,
he said.
        The sloth reportedly emits sounds like human beings, Oren
explained. Tales have it that rubber tappers and hunters confuse
the cries of the sloth in the jungle with those of a person.
        The giant sloth is often associated with the Mapinguari, a
mythical beast. According to legend, the Mapinguari was a shaman
who wanted eternal life and was transformed into a monster.