What's stirring in the jungle?
In a tale worthy of Indiana Jones, a Belfast father and son may have discovered a giant species of snake deep in the Amazon forest. Laurence White reports
For centuries man has been fascinated by tales of giant beasts lurking in remote corners of the globe. The obvious, and closest to home, example is the enduring myth of the Loch Ness monster, the supposed only existing relic of some long extinct species.
Every so often the myth is resurrected and expeditions are mounted to find supporting evidence, but with no success to date.
Similar tales exist of huge snakes, reaching 40 metres in length and two metres in diameter, living in the murky depths of the Amazon rainforest.
British archaeologist and explorer, Colonel Percy Fawcett, was commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society of London in 1906 to map an area of the Peruvian Amazon in a dispute over valuable rubber production.
While on the expedition in 1925 he vanished on another trip to the area he claimed to have shot a giant anaconda 62 feet in length and 12 inches in diameter.
However, his account like those of others who claim to have seen even bigger specimens, have never been verified.
Yet the rumours persist of giant snakes known to native tribes in the Amazon region as "Yacumama" or "black boa".
It was the lure of these extraordinary tales " backed up by years of research” which brought a Northern Ireland father and son, Mike and Greg Warner, to the region earlier this year.
Mike said: "The supposed giant anaconda is not the normal green in colour, but dark brown. Although known by locals as"the black boa", it is actually a species of anaconda, not a boa."Yacumama"™ translates as "Mother of the Water" and reports of this giant snake abound throughout the Amazon basin."
Mike has long been fascinated by tales of a giant snake, much larger than any confirmed by scientists. He has spent 23 years researching reports of the snake, including detailed study of ancient art and cultures spanning several millennia.
Mike, along with his 44-year-old son Greg, decided to test his theories on the probable habitat of such a giant snake and assembled a team to carry out detailed aerial surveys of two locations in the Amazon rainforest.
With the assistance of the Peruvian Embassy in London and authorities on the ground in the Amazon, he picked his team.
Their destination was near Iquitos. Fixer, Deborah McLaughlin, based in Lima, handled logistics and permits. Jose Valles Padilla, an experienced guide and translator, was hired along with Jorge Pinedo, a local pilot of 30 years standing.
The first problem they encountered was hazardous weather conditions they arrived during the rainy season.
After sitting around for five days they managed to take off in a hydroplane from the Amazon River near Iquitos.
"In spite of being buffeted by a freak storm at the first site, we managed several fly-overs at an average altitude of 400 feet," Mike recalled.
"We had two video cameras mounted at either side of the rear of the aircraft which took continuous footage and Greg, sitting up front with the pilot, took hundreds of still photographs," said Mike, who celebrated his 73rd birthday while on the expedition.
Their target was the confluence of the Napo and Amazon rivers. Greg said: â€œWe believed these giant creatures favour areas where two rivers meet as that provides them with two sources of food supply.
"When Colonel Fawcett first went to the Amazon he documented large trails six foot wide. These are channels made by the snakes as they move about the swampy ground. We believed that if we could find channels, we could maybe find snakes as well."
In all they spent 12 days in the jungle "they also investigated a thermal lake with gushing hot springs 110 miles deeper into the jungle where another unusual beast is reputed to lurk" before the exhausting 30-hour flight back home.
There they began the arduous task of minutely examining more than 700 photographs and five hours of video.
And what they found was astounding.
Mike revealed: "We managed to capture one of these reclusive giant snakes on camera as it made its way through a watery channel. Jose, who has 20 years of experience working on these sorts of projects, confirmed our belief that we had captured a huge snake on film."
Greg has contacted experts in Peru, the National Geographic Society in Washington, and Queen's University in Belfast about his discovery.
He said: "When both the Minister for Eco Tourism in Peru and a senior editor at National Geographic television contacted me on the same day, I knew my father was onto something big â€” no pun intended."
Now the father and son team wants the scientific community to continue their exploration. Ideally, they would like scientists to conduct thermal imaging of the area they visited to determine the actual size and number of giant snakes. Such work could best be carried out during the dry season, starting in October.
According to Greg they have received reports of another Yacumama further up the river with a diameter of 1.8 metres.
Could the mystery of giant snakes in the Amazon jungle be finally solved?