The Chupacabra may be the weirdest of North America's cryptids.
Everyone loves a good urban legend story, especially around Halloween time. No doubt you have heard the endless stories of legendary creatures like bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster before. Most of these allegedly unknown real life animals are deeply seeded in local folklore for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The legendary Chupacabra is a little different because it is still a recent phenomenon. The first alleged Chupacabra sightings started in Puerto Rico before eventually spreading to parts of Mexico, Texas, and South America. Today, the name is known worldwide and has spawned a cult following of believers online and a presence in popular culture that is hard to ignore.
The descriptions of this mysterious creature vary greatly, but the most disturbing part of the stories is straight out of a science fiction or horror film. The creature allegedly sucks the blood of its victims, which are usually farm animals. It is a very weird legend, but does it have any basis in fact?
The origins and descriptions of Chupacabra
The name El Chupacabra only became a household name around 1995 or so, which is unusual when compared to other cryptids of the world. It was March of that year when the carcasses of farm animals first started turning up with unusual puncture wounds in Puerto Rico. It did not take long for the creature responsible to be given the name El Chupacabra, which is Spanish for "the goat sucker." It was given this name because many of the dead animals were allegedly found completely drained of blood like they'd been attacked by a vampire.
As the bodies of various animals started piling up, people began to get frightened over what may be causing it. In August of 1995, the legend of the Chupacabra exploded like gas on an open fire after a woman named Madelyne Tolentino claimed to be the first to see the creature. Her sighting happened in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico. This town is only about 15 miles outside of Old San Juan, which likely further added to people's fears.
In a 1996 interview with UFO Digest, she described a four-foot-tall creature walking on two legs much like a kangaroo. She said it had long arms, and three fingers on its hands and three toes on each foot. The eyes were allegedly dark grey with no whites to them. She also described it as having dark, short hair. She also claimed to have seen the creature again on January 4, 1996. Only with this sighting she claimed the creature had orange or red eyes.
Many sightings since then have been close to Tolentino's sighting. Although there are some variations in the descriptions. Many describe a creature with no hair, and green or gray skin. Some descriptions include a row of spines running down the back of the creature. The unusual thing about this legend is there are two wildly different descriptions of the creature. The more common description of the Chupacabra is a wild dog-like creature that resembles a hairless coyote or wolf. In fact, most of the more recent cabra sightings are of this variety rather than the former.
In any case, as more bodies piled up and eyewitness reports started to increase, the stories made worldwide headlines. Soon reports of strange alien-like creatures or canids were coming in across Mexico, the southern U.S., down through central America, and as far south as Chile. Explanations for what was going on were wild. People speculated everything from visiting aliens from another world to a government experiment gone wrong and had then escaped. As chupa stories gained popularity, someone noticed the similarities between current events and mysterious livestock killings that occurred in Moca, Puerto Rico back in 1975. Much like the new reports, the animals allegedly were drained of blood. The attacks abruptly stopped in July of that year and were apparently forgotten by most until the legend of Chupacabra surfaced 20 years later.
Chupacabra "bodies" start surfacing.
In the mid-2000s, stories of the Chupacabra being a dog-like beast continued to increase. Along with that description came a sudden plethora of strange bodies many people claimed were the beast. The photos of such bodies became the stuff of Internet legend, getting forwarded from email to email and shared across message boards reaching millions. According to Texas Observer, the first one of these reports came in 2000 in Nicaragua where a rancher shot one of these strange dog-like creatures that had been harassing his livestock.
It later turned out the animal was nothing more than a dog suffering from a severe case of mange, but it seemed to get the ball rolling on a bevy of Chupacabra bodies being found anywhere and everywhere. One of the most famous of these bodies was found in Texas in 2007 by Phylis Canion. The nutritionist knew something weird was going on because her chickens kept turning up dead on her ranch. Eventually she saw a strange hairless creature running around on her property.
Canion and her husband attempted to use trail cameras to capture an image of the strange animal without success. However, she still managed to get the proof something weird was going on. In July, Canion discovered a strange, hairless carcass that had been struck by a car near her ranch. The story instantly went viral and Canion became one of the better-known names in Chupacabra lore. Was this the Puerto Rican legend at last? Not quite.
Texas State University-San Marcos ran a series of tests on the strange animal and biologists there were able to conclude in November of 2007 it was just a coyote. Albeit one that is likely suffering from the parasitic mites like Sarcoptes scabiei that cause mange. These mites cause an itchy skin rash that leads to severe hair loss and later death in most animals.
Since then, there have been countless other reports of strange hairless dogs or coyotes. One of the more famous ones was captured on a dash camera in 2008 you can see that video above. Also, bodies continue to surface every now and then. Several of these bodies were also the subject of scientific analysis with similar results.
Other possible explanations.
The mangy coyote explanation seems to make the most sense for the majority of dog-like Chupacabra sightings. Mistaken identity is often cited for most unknown cryptid reports. And to be fair, a hairless dog or coyote is extremely strange looking. Especially if you happen to encounter one in the dark with just streetlights to illuminate it. It does not take much for your imagination to run wild from there. Especially if you get surprised by one.
However, it gets a little harder to come up with a rational explanation for the bipedal reports of the beast. Most skeptics dismiss those claims as nothing more than an elaborate hoax. Although there are two other possible explanations. The first is that eyewitnesses in Puerto Rico in 1995 were misidentifying escaped laboratory monkeys.
The second theory comes from Hollywood. Chupacabra investigator Benjamin Radford has suggested the hit 1995 movie "Species" likely played a part in creating some of the hysteria. The movie features an alien creature that assumes human form. However, the alien creature's true form in the film bears a striking resemblance to Chupacabra reports. Coincidentally, the film was released in Puerto Rico around the same time the reports started. Make of that what you will.
But what about those bodies of livestock you might ask? Well, plenty of necropsies have been done on the alleged victims of the beast. Most have revealed the bodies were not really drained of blood at all. This has led many scientists to theorize this part of the story is a simply an exaggeration of the tale. While there may be plenty of plausible explanations for this mystery, at this point, the legend of the Chupacabra is firmly entrenched in local folklore and pop culture. And in the end, that is the way we like it. Because who does not enjoy a good monster story?
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