By Liam Higgins
Despite the best efforts of Cajas National Park and University of Cuenca officials and scientists, the so-called Monstruo de las Cajas, or Monster of the Cajas, won’t go away.
A three-man television crew from the U.S. was in town in early June, interviewing witnesses and filming high-altitude areas of the Cajas National Park where the monster has reportedly been sighted. The crew was accompanied by Quito tour guide Carlos Castro, who claims to have taken video of the creature in 1997.
“We talked to two retired park employees, one whom has seen the monster, as well as local people who know about it,” said Castro, who assisted the Los Angeles-based crew. “We asked to see the evidence kept at the University of Cuenca but they continue to deny that it exists but we were able to talk to a former employee who took pictures of plaster casts of the footprints and who has prints of some of the pictures they keep locked in their files.”
A University of Cuenca biology professor who asked not to be identified, describes himself as a monster skeptic. “I am not saying that the witnesses are lying or that they didn’t see something up there, but I think most of the evidence has been fabricated,” he said. “I have seen one the videos and two pictures but these could have been altered. But, maybe not.” He believes the box of evidence that Castro claims the university is keeping from the public doesn’t exist.
“I explained this to the television people from [the television program] Monster Quest in 2009 but they seemed to think I was lying,” the professor said. “I also told them that the area where people say they saw this thing is often foggy and sometimes snowy and that the the high elevation can affect judgment.”
A supervisor at Cajas National Park refused to discuss the monster. “This is something we do not talk about. Guagua does not exist,” he said, referring to the name Guagua Grande [Wawa Grande], used by people who live in the Cajas to describe the monster. “There may be something else but I haven’t seen it.”
The most recent “sighting” was in April 2013, when two British hikers and a Cuenca guide claimed to have spotted the creature during a three-day trek. The three said that they watched the over-sized humanoid for several minutes in a remote area of the park.
“I have no idea what it was other than to say it was quite large, with light colored fur and had some human characteristics. It was able to stand on two legs but also came down on all fours,” said Sean Worthington, one of the hikers. He added: “I am a scientist by training and not prone to make fanciful claims, so I cannot deny seeing the thing.”
Worthington and his companion, Roger Chrisma and the guide, reported that they watched the creature for several minutes from a distance of about 100 meters. The sighting was reported by a Quito television station and one of the pictures that Worthington said he took appeared in a London newspaper in October 2013.
According to Worthington and Chrisma and their guide, who asked not to be named, the creature had thick, light gray or reddish gray fur.
The monster first made headlines in July, 1988 when a Scottish hiker claims he was attacked by a pair of the creatures. Robert Burns, who sought shelter in a cave from a late afternoon snow storm, says he was mauled by the Guagua and tossed from the cave. Burns was treated for a broken arm, deep lacerations and bite wounds at a Cuenca hospital. His story was reported on television as well as in newspapers in Cuenca and Edinburgh.
In 2009, two Swedish hikers say they saw the creature and reported that it stood between seven and eight feet in height and weighed 300 to 400 pounds. Their story, along with a picture that they claimed to have taken, appeared in a Stockholm newspaper in July of that year.
Except for the fur color, most descriptions of the creature are similar to those of the alleged Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, in the U.S. Northwest.
According to Castro, many Cajas guides are aware of Guagua, either from personal contact or through reports from hikers. “Most people don’t like to talk about it because their friends will think they’re crazy,” he says. “Even if they haven’t seen Guagua, almost everyone who has spent much time in the mountains has seen the footprints.”
A retired national park service biologist, who worked in the Cajas Park when it was established in 1996, agrees that there is an official policy of denial and that park employees are told not to talk about the alleged monster. “It does not exist. That is what we told anyone who asked about it.” He also says that the science department at the University of Cuenca has some “objects” and photos connected to Guagua, but these are off limits to the public.