The Panamanian Blue Hill Monster (or Cerro Azul Monster)

Yet again the world is going nuts over a weird, ugly carcass that is being identified by some as an alien, as a genetic mutation ‘of some sort’ (duh?), as a deformed dolphin (seriously: what?), or as an unidentified ‘monster’ that perhaps represents a new species. I’ve lost track of how many emails I received yesterday about the thing. It’s being dubbed the Cerro Azul Monster or Blue Stream Monster or Blue Hill Horror and was discovered at Cerro Azul, Panama. As was the case with the Montauk Monster, the animal’s real identity is bloody obvious and this is no mystery. The (almost definitely bogus) story behind the carcass is that four teenagers (aged 14-16) encountered the creature as it emerged from a cave near Cerro Azul Stream last Saturday. It began to approach them by climbing over the rocks; they took to throwing stones at it (ahh, how I so love our species), killed it, and then threw it in the water. Note that it is NOT supposed to have washed up on a beach, or been discovered at the seaside, or anything like that. We have no idea whether this story is true or not, and it probably isn’t. The animal’s short face, peculiar body shape (wide belly but very narrow, tapering chest) and very long, slender arms – all very obvious in the photos shown here – immediately show that it’s a sloth (albeit a hairless one: read on). Many people have already made this identification, mostly because the long, slim, curved claws on the right hand can be seen in one of the photos (might be the left hand, as note that the same image is flipped in the montage shown at top).

I would speculate that the people who found the carcass staged it in position for the photos, and made up the story stated above. I assume – or, at least, I hope – that people who live in the more rural regions of Panama are familiar with sloths, but even so a hairless one would still look pretty unusual, and unusual enough to palm off as some sort of monster. Of the two living kinds of sloth, the Bradypus species (the three-toed sloths) have really short snouts and their nostrils are close to the mouth. The Choloepus species (two-toed sloths) have a rather more protruding snout, with the nostrils being further away from the mouth. The Cerro Azul animal therefore seems to be a Bradypus, though it’s not possible to say which species (though, based on range, B. variegatus is most likely). Again: case closed. This is what sloths look like! However…The weird thing is the absence of hair. As I’ve mentioned before (when discussing the ‘Montauk Monster’ case), rotting carcasses that spend a while in the water tend to lose their hair, and they can end up completely naked. This might have happened in this case, but it’s also possible that the animal was suffering from a condition such as, I dunno, chronic dermatitis or alopecia or something. I’m not aware of any reports of such ‘naked sloths’, but naked foxes, raccoons and other mammals are on record. Having said all that, the carcass is not completely naked: if you look at the photo at top left in the montage, you can see brownish, shaggy hair on the animal’s side and belly. The sloth identity is further confirmed by the photo above: it appeared on Cryptomundo. This decomposing carcass is, without doubt at all, that of a three-toed sloth, though there’s some slight uncertainty as to whether or not this really does represent the same animal as that shown above.

If it does then the cranial tissues have suffered from some incredibly rapid decomposition, as we can see a fully exposed skull (the right zygomatic arch is visible on the left, and the opening of the nasal cavity is facing towards us). So, sorry, no monster, no alien, no deformity, no ‘genetic mutant’: just another ordinary and familiar animal. Again. What is “It”? For now, it is “The Blue Hill Horror.” “Shocking photographs of ’something’ that has washed ashore in Panama is sending chills up the spines of Central American readers for a creature rivaling the Montauk Monster has invaded their land.” Well, that’s a caption I created of what I imagine some editors are feeling they would like to have written about the photos published this week in Panama. Instead, here is Cryptomundo correspondent Harris Eisenberg and my rough translation of the text accompanying the images above:“The finding of a strange Blue Hill creature has awaked controversial among the population, because while some assert that it is a being of another planet, others think simply that it is an animal. Four adolescents between 14 and 16 years of age, discovered it in the Blue Hill Spurt, this past Saturday [September 12, 2009], while they were amusing themselves in the area. According to what they related, one of them suddenly saw the creature leave a cave located behind the water spurt. When it saw their appearance, it began to climb on rocks towards them; one [of the teens] was scared, so he began to stone it and to throw sticks at it, causing it to be killed; then they threw it into the water and they fled.”It looks like another mundane animal washed ashore, and a story has been created to explain it. But what species of animal could it be? news from news from scienceblogs.com & cryptomundo.com

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