In Nheegatu, the language commonly known as Língua Geral Amazônica, tapirê-iauara can be translated as Tapir Water-Lady, or as Tapir Nymph.” This creature enjoys a wide distribution in the Amazonian Region, from the Orinoco in Venezuela down the Amazon River up to Pará.
Habitat-wise, the tapirê-iauara prefers slower-moving waters, near mangrove or palm trees, and avoids human settlements.
In the past, fear of this creature forced locals out of many nutrient-rich floodplain systems (várzea), as it was believed the Tapir Nymph patrolled the flooded forest to keep fishers away.
Regardless of the extensive geographical distribution of this creature, reports of it’s appearance varied by region and in time. However, most accounts mention a cow-sized jaguar-like beast with a rusted waterproof coat, a thick mane, long droopy ears half a meter in length, and an overpowering stench (i.e., catingueira, as the word catinga means bad smell in Portuguese). Some witnesses have indicated that the beast has jaguar legs, but others mentioned that only the forelegs are jaguar-like, while the hind legs are hooved and donkey-like.
In the northern region, the beast generally described as having horse legs with or without catlike paws, duck feet, or large otter paws. The fur may vary in color, from red in adult beast, to black with a cream patch in the chest for younger individuals.
The catingueira of the tapirê-iauara is so strong, the beast can be smelled before it’s seen. From a distance, its rotten odor is merely nauseating. At close, the stench is enough to cause fainting and outright death. And this happens when the stink of a tapirê-iauara is enough to cause a human’s shadow to depart, causing the soul to leave the body. The beast is also quite loud as it moves; with its large, finlike ears flapping against the water as it swims. It doesn’t matter though, because the tapirê-iauaras mesmerizes its prey into stillness until it pounces on them.
Tapirê-iauaras have a broad diet that includes large fish, capybaras, caimans, and humans. They are attracted to hauls of fish. Protecting their territory, they often show up as fishermen work, destroying their nets to eat their catches, and if a fisherman is not careful, it can also become dinner. When tapirê-iauaras hunt, they are fast, persistent, and resilient, relying on their odor to weaken prey before killing it with their sharp teeth and claws.
Caraña resin—used by the Guarani People to make a black pigment commonly used for ceremonial purposes—is the only substance repulsive to the tapirê-iauaras. Those concerned about tapirê-iauara attack should paint their faces with this pigment before heading into the Amazon.
Is important to mention that the tapirê-iauaras not only attack in the water; they’re good hikers. If you face a tapirê-iauara on land, you best bet for survival is to take shelter in the high branches of a tree, but be careful to find a secure position; as the tapirê-iauara’s odor may cause fainting, a precarious position could result in falling out of the tree, and ultimately, death.
-De Castro, F., 2002. From myths to rules: the evolution of local management in the Amazonian floodplain. Environment and History, 8(2), pp.197-216.
-Smith, N. J. H. 1996. The Enchanted Amazon Rain Forest. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.