Joshua Foer of Slate.com reports:
PACAYA SAMIRIA, Peru—Of all the crazy mythical creatures that starry-eyed monster hunters have gone in search of—the Yeti, Sasquatch, Nessie, the chupacabra—South America’s giant anaconda would seem to be the least implausible. None of the Amazon’s early explorers dared emerge from the forest without a harrowing tale of a face-to-face encounter with a humongous snake. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was practically a requirement of the jungle adventure genre. English explorer Percy Fawcett (of Lost City of Z fame) reportedly shot a 62-foot anaconda in 1907 while on a surveying mission in western Brazil. Cândido Rondon, who led Teddy Roosevelt’s famous journey down the River of Doubt, claimed to have measured a 38-footer “in the flesh.” In 1933, a 100-foot serpent was said to have been machine-gunned by officials from the Brazil-Colombia Boundary Commission. According to witnesses, four men together couldn’t lift its head. The photos, of course, were lost.
Had they been captured alive, any of these giants would have merited the $50,000 bounty that the New York Zoological Society (later the Wildlife Conservation Society) offered for much of the 20th century to anyone who could bring a 30-foot snake back to the Bronx Zoo. Though thousands of anacondas have been caught, measured, and released by scientists over the years, few have ever surpassed 18 feet. Still, stories of Amazonian megasnakes continue to surface every few years, and they continue to inspire credulous souls to set off into the jungle. People like Dylan and me.
We had made our way from Gocta to Iquitos, the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road, to engage in what Loren Coleman, founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, has dubbed “cryptotourism,” a form of adventure travel driven by the hunt for creatures that have eluded science. Most cryptotourists are truer believers than we. But that’s almost beside the point. Their expeditions sometimes seem to be as much about finding undiscovered animals as about creating an excuse to get out into some of the wildest places left on earth, to play-act as real explorers. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, for example, coordinates regular Sasquatch hunts not only in the Pacific Northwest, where you might expect the elusive beast to hang out, but also in places like Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia. In some cases, cryptotourism can be quite cushy: One company offers a fully outfitted 18-day Yeti-hunting trek across the Bhutanese Himalayas for a mere $5,450 per person…
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