Creature Feature: El Chupacabra

In the effort to funnel my research to the public in a way that’s actually constructive, I’d like to present my first creature feature on this blog. It’s not that I went looking for the monsters, it’s that they usually find me. I swear. Cryptozoology is one of those things that I find distantly fascinating but I’ve never really had a vested interest in it until I started poking around, trying to get a better handle on a couple of obscure legends. As it is, when you jab into one vein, you sometimes hit an artery — in this case the gush arrived by way of a few other rumoured critters that inhabit the popular consciousness but are usually written off as products of the imagination.

Big foot. Sasquatch. Moth men. Jackalopes. Chupacabra.

Generally speaking, if its not a vampire, ghoul, golem, zombie, or can be fit under the umbrella of “The Good Neighbours” (let’s not use the f-word here, folks; it attracts their attention. You know f-a-i-r-y?) I have a tendency to flap around these creatures, not really knowing what to do with them until they show up in some offhanded way in my writing. Such is the case with the chupacabra; it made its first appearance in Wake the Dead as an flippant comment (which I totally had no control over; sometimes the characters know more than I do) and then I got interested as it lent another layer to my world building.

The Chupacabra: What it allegedly is

First spotted in 1995 in Puerto Rico, the “goat sucker” takes its name from the collection of its preferred victims. The initial report claimed eight dead sheep bearing puncture marks on the chest and drained of blood, but that was just the beginning. There’s nothing like a little predatory vampiric activity to rouse attention, especially when similar corpses turned up in the American Southwest around the same time. Cattle, this time. Over the course of 1995 and surrounding the Puerto Rican town of Canóvanas, 150 animals, including household pets and farm animals, were found mutilated and drained of blood in a similar fashion with two puncture wounds attributed to either the teeth or the claws of the predator. Locals christened the killer the “goat sucker” as many of the victims were goats, but other animals on the roster of its kills include cats, rabbits, dogs, chickens, cattle, and others.

The only accounts of these sightings were from eyewitness accounts and the carcasses of its victims, until, of course, reports claiming the beast had been slain began rolling in — but I’ll get to that in a second. Original accounts vary but the general constants are that the creature stands four to five feet tall, has glowing red eyes, is in possession of powerful legs that allow it to leap large distances, long talons, and spikes running the length of its spine.

Chupacabra by Kain White

Chupacabra by Kain White

With the exception of the spikes, this bipedal manifestation is not unlike the description of the Jersey Devil, or even better: Spring-Heeled Jack — an entity, though likely an elaborate hoax, that circulated through London in the 1800’s.

For a good five years, accounts rolled in from Spanish speaking countries, including Puerto Rico, Mexico, Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Florida, and then the description changed:

Sightings began to resemble something belonging to the canine family: a hairless dog found in the American Southwest. As sightings became slayings of the vampire beast, scientists suddenly had evidence to study.

Debunking the Chupacabra Myth

Give a racoon, a coyote, a dog a severe case of mange an an autopsy, and the field samples of the chupacabra corpses were easily disproven. DNA tests revealed that in every reported case the animal was identified under a variety of common mammals suffering from a severe appearance-altering parasitic infection: dog, coyote, racoon, etc. These animals lost their fur, turned scaly, gaunt, and generally fit the bill for the monstrous description of the revived chupacabra myth.

My initial thought on the blood-sucking aspect of the kill was that there were instances of vampire bats, but even that theory is moot: There are three species of vampire bats in the world, and though they live in the warm climates of Latin America where the initial chupacabra sightings occurred, they never kill their prey directly. Vampire bats make incisions with their teeth and lap up the blood. The worst scenario is that they’ll leave a victim with rabies, but vampire bats aren’t capable of even draining a small animal.(1)

In regards to the chupcabra’s victims, the blood draining isn’t what it seems. “When suspected chupacabra victims have been professionally autopsied, invariably they are revealed to contain plenty of blood […] Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one: ordinary animals, mostly dogs and coyotes. These animals instinctually go for a victim’s neck, and their canine teeth leave puncture wounds that resemble vampire bite marks. Though many people assume that dogs and coyotes would eat or tear up the animals they attack, wildlife predation experts know this too is a myth; often they will simply bite the neck and leave it to die.(2)

The Coffin Nail

This was the real bummer. Ever seen the movie Species? The original sighting and subsequent report was made to a Puerto Rican newspaper by a local named Madelyne Tolentino. She’d seen the film two weeks prior to making her account, and the resemblance between the alien/human hybrid and the initial description of the chupacabra is a little uncanny. Ben Radford, Madelyne’s interviewer and deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine, suggests that the exaggerated accounts following the initial sighting and report is the result of the film’s influence. Exaggerated accounts following the chupcacabra’s sighting might be attributed to internet popularization.(3)

It’s certainly seeded a culture of doubt when it comes to bizarre animal deaths, as reports of chupacabra attacks still occur today.

So what do you think? Chupacabra: fact, fiction, or worth putting into a pet store?

Leave me a note in the comments below with your thoughts.

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