Out of Bounds

Does Any Undiscovered Megafauna Remain?

One thing’s certain, proclaim the age of discovery dead and dead will suddenly start blinking rapidly

By Rob Breeding

Hands-free access has made road trips the ideal time to get caught up with a phone call to someone you need to gab at a bit. It’s hard to find the time for a call, but if you’re driving, in the rural part of the country west of the 100th meridian, an hour call hardly seems long enough.

One of my former students recently landed her dream job. She travels the state telling stories about small-town folks who’ve found something interesting in their corner of the world. She’s on the road a lot, and I am fortunate to be on her rotating list of folks to chat with, helping her stay alert as she drives home after an assignment.

She told me of an interview with a woman who has made proving Bigfoot’s existence her life’s work. As my former student drove, we talked about the plausibility of a big primate, still roaming the forests of the Pacific Northwest, yet still undiscovered.

Not likely, we agreed.

“We’ve discovered all the megafauna,” I declared. “There’s nothing that big still roaming about, in secret.”

My former student corrected me.

“On land,” she said. “There’s stuff in the ocean still to discover.”

One thing’s certain, proclaim the age of discovery dead and dead will suddenly start blinking rapidly, rousting itself from its impending dirt nap, and tell you to hold its beer.

It was maybe a day after our road trip conversation that the news broke: a new species of anaconda had been discovered in Ecuador. You likely saw the big snake. Social media was flooded with a video of a man swimming with a 20-foot, 440-pound northern green anaconda.

In case you’re keeping score, anything that weighs more than 100 pounds is commonly referred to as megafauna. Not everyone buys that definition, however, as it includes some not-so-mega species such as humans and pigs. Some want to raise the stakes to 1,000 pounds or more, but I’m happy with the century mark. It seems a good place to make the distinction. A grand is simply too much. It would exclude even that massive snake swimming in the post-discovery video release.

If a 440-pound anaconda can’t get past your bouncers, I don’t want to crash your megafauna party anyway.

As for the Bigfoot lady, I’m 100% behind her quest. We all need things to believe in, something no matter how illogical it keeps us perpetually seeking. Keep looking for your wonder, evangelizing all who’ll listen. I’ve been doing that for wild game birds for the longest time, and wild trout even longer.

I feel certain she’s not going to discover an unknown Pacific Northwest primate, however. By now better evidence than the Patterson-Gimlin film would have confirmed the great temperate ape’s presence. I’m imagining a furry horror flick sequence: “Paper Dolls” come to life. A nice tourist, on her way to Polebridge for a huckleberry bear claw, is snatched from her rental SUV while the kids scream in terror. Surely, such a scene would have played out in cell phone video range by now.

As for this new northern green anaconda, it meets the size requirement for upending my no-new megafauna proclamation, but I kind of think it got by on a technicality. The big snake wasn’t newly discovered. We’ve known of green anacondas since the 1700s, including this new northern species. What we didn’t know was that DNA analysis would show the species, nearly identical in appearance to its southern cousins, differed genetically by more than 5%.

If you’re still keeping score, humans and chimpanzees differ genetically by just 2%.

So maybe there is a new species of megafauna slithering across the Earth, but it’s not newly discovered. Such discovery would take a documented sighting of a lumbering Sasquatch roaming about Hungry Horse.

Don’t bother pursuing scientific journals for that announcement. You’ll see it first in the Beacon police logs.