The Mitla is an alleged medium-sized carnivorous cryptid described as a black dog-like cat or cat-like dog.
The first description of the mysterious Mitla came from the British explorer and adventurer Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett (1867-1925).
He reported sightings of the elusive cryptid in the Amazonian rainforest near the Madidi River of Bolivia, South America, while on a mapping expedition on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society (1906-1914).
According to cryptozoologist George Eberhert in his book Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, the etymology (origin and meaning) of Mitla is uncertain. However, in the Nahuatl (Aztec) language spoken across Central Mexico, “Mitla” is the “abode of the dead.”
The word also occurs in the famous Mitla archeological site in Oaxaca state, southern Mexico.
In his Exploration Fawcett: Journey to the Lost City of Z (1953), Fawcett described the elusive cryptid as a “black dog-like cat about the size of [an English] foxhound.”
Other cryptozoologists have described it as a “cat-like dog” or a “half cat, half dog animal.”
The different definitions reflect conflicting views over whether the Mitla is a feline (cat) animal with dog-like features or a canid (dog-like) with cat-like properties.
The British-American zoologist and cryptozoologist Ivan Terence Sanderson (1911-1973) likened the Mitla to a large serval (Leptailurus serval), a solitary wild cat widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Sanderson, the Mitla has a black coat, pricked ears, and a small lynx-like tail.
Sightings and Tales
Lieutenant-Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett
Fawcett claimed to have sighted the Mitla twice while traveling in Bolivia between 1906 and 1914.
The former artillery officer claimed to have sighted the Mitla twice.
Tragically, Fawcett mysteriously disappeared in 1925 while on an expedition with his son, Jack, and a friend, Raleigh Rimell, to locate the legendary lost city of Z in the jungles of Brazil,
Ivan Terence Sanderson
Sanderson–an avid animal collector–reported multiple sightings of the Mitla during a field trip to South America in the 1930s.
He also claimed to have unsuccessfully attempted to shoot the animal.
Sanderson eventually obtained the skin of the animal. Based on the features, he described the Mitla as similar to a black serval and having a lynx-like tail.
Unfortunately, there are no records of what happened to the skin or whether any expert had the opportunity to examine it.
After joining the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in 1959 (then the Jersey Zoo), the English conservationist Jeremy Mallinson (1937-2021) traveled to the Bolivia jungle in 1965 to find the legendary Mitla.
Mallinson had hoped to return with a live specimen but didn’t find any.
Toward the end of his expedition, Mallinson had the time to contemplate the possible implications of his futile two-month search for Fawcett’s mythical cat in the South American rainforest.
While traveling on the Madeira River in a canoe, it occurred to him that the fabled “black dog-like cat” might not exist. He speculated that the animal was possibly not a separate species but only a dark-coated variety (“melanistic form”) of one of several species of south American cats.
Mallinson acknowledged that the remote regions of the Amazon rainforest might have undiscovered species, such as the Mitla. But he thought it was conceivable that as an untrained observer, Fawcett might have mistaken a feline animal, such as the South American Jaguarundi, for a half-dog, half-cat creature.
The jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) is a wild cat native to south America, central America, and Mexico. It typically has a uniform coat color, often with markings on the underside.
Regarding coat color, there are two common types of jaguarundi: individuals with different shades of grey and those with shades of red.
The greyish color may range from dark brownish-grey to greyish-black.
Cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal
Some cryptozoologists favor the view that the Mitla is not a feline (cat-like) animal with dog-like features but a canid (dog-like) with cat-like features.
The University of Chicago biologist Roy P. Mackal (1925-2013) was one of the founding members –alongside ecologist Richard Greenwell and Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans–of the now defunct International Society for Cryptozoology.
In his book Searching for Hidden Animals: An Inquiry Into Zoological Mysteries (1980), Mackal argued that the Mitla might be a cat-like dog instead of a dog-like cat.
He favored the proposition that the South American bush dog (Speothos venaticus) was likely Fawcett’s cat-dog.
The pack-hunting animal is only rarely sighted. But it is believed to be native to a region of the Amazon rainforest stretching across Panama, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Colombia.
However, many cryptozoologists, including Karl Shuker, considered the South American bush dog an unlikely candidate because it has a red-brown coat color instead of black, as Fawcett reported.
Cryptozoologist Karl Shuker
In his book Mystery Cats of the World (1989), the British zoologist and cryptologist Karl Shuker agreed with Mackal that the Mitla was likely a canid with feline features rather than a feline with canid features.
While Shuker agreed with Mackal’s suggestion that the Mitla was a canid animal, he disagreed with his proposal that it might be the South American bush dog.
Shucker proposed that the Mitla was probably the short-eared dog, also known as zorro (Atelocynus microtis).
The shot-eared dog is an elusive species found in the Amazonian rainforest regions east of the Andes in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama.
Many cryptozoologists think Shuker might be right because the features of the short-eared dog are very similar to those Fawcett ascribed to the Mitla.
Sigi Wiesel: shot-eared dog sighting
The German biologist Sigi Wiesel and his Panamanian assistant Jose sighted three short-eared dogs (“slender, dog-like animals”) in the Darien Gap region of Panama back in 1984.
In their book Guide to the Carnivores of Central America: Natural History, Ecology, and Conservation, authors De la Rosa and Nocke (2000) reported that Weisel described the short-eared dog as a “dog- or fox-like animal… short-legged with dark brown pelage, long snouts, and heavy teeth… The ears were small and nearly round.”
The short-eared dog is categorized in the same biological family as domestic dogs (family Canidae) but placed in a different genus.
It is a biologically unique animal considered an atypical canid. Due to its unique traits, it is the only canid that zoologists have assigned to the genus Atelocynus (Dogs belong to the genus Canis).
Short-eared dogs live in thickly forested areas and avoid contact with humans. Sightings are rare due to their elusive nature. Scholars have not studied them extensively.
The animal could be mistaken for a “dog-like cat” due to its short ears, short but slender limbs, bushy tail, and gracile cat-like gait.
It has thick fur with coat colors ranging from dark red or brown to dark blue, gray, and black.
The tayra (Eira barbara)
A few investigators have also suggested that the Mitla could be the weasel-like animal called the tayra (Eira barbara).
The animal, also known as tolomuco or perico ligero, is native to Central and South America east of the Andes.
Different subspecies live in Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala, Cost Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico.
It is the only species in the genus Eira.
|Other Name/s||Mitla, Fawcett's Cat-Dog, Bolivian Mitla, mystery dog of South America, mystery cat of South America|
Where to find
Exploration Fawcett: Journey to the Lost City of Z (first published in 1953)
Searching for Hidden Animals: An Inquiry Into Zoological Mysteries, Roy P. Mackal, 1980
Travels in Search of Endangered Species, Jeremy Mallinson, 1989
Mystery Cats of the World: From Blue Tigers to Exmoor Beasts, Karl P. Shuker, 1989
Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery, Karl P. Shuker, 2012
Guide to the Carnivores of Central America: Natural History, Ecology, and Conservation, Carlos L. de la Rosa, Claudia C. Nocke, 2000
Caribbean Treasure, Ivan Terence Sanderson, 1939
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (Volume 2), George M. Eberhart (2002)
https://karlshuker.blogspot.com/2013/02/trailing-mitla-dog-like-cat-or-cat-like.html, “Trailing the Mitla — A dog-like cat, or a cat-like dog?” accessed on January 27, 2023
- The Mitla in close-up with yellow eyes. Unsplash.com
Last modified on February 2nd, 2023 at 1:25 am