A small crowed gathered within the narrow confines of a clothing store on San Juan's Ponce de León Avenue to watch the clerks remove armfuls of crisp white t-shirts from nondescript boxes. Colorful serigraphs and silkscreened images depicting the gargoylesque paranormal predator known as El Chupacabras by the media decorated the front of each garment: Chupacabras as lifeguard, Chupacabras as gourmet chef, Chupacabras as straw-sipping vampire. An overweight woman gently took one of the t-shirts and looked at it skeptically. "Eso no puede ser," she said aloud to no one in particular: This thing can't be.
For that was the zeitgeist in the shining star of the Caribbean in December 1995: half-hearted denial of a physical impossibility. A red-eyed nocturnal creature alleged by many to have caused the deaths of countless small animals in rural Puerto Rico since the beginning of the year. What had originally been considered the idle prattle of country cousins was now a subject of serious discussions in thoroughly urban, sophisticated San Juan. Congressmen from opposing sides of the political spectrum now proposed joint resolutions calling for a formal investigation of the problem affecting not only their constituents, but which they themselves had experienced on their country estates.
The madness would soon spread to Florida, then Mexico, then Central America...a paranormal domino theory whose reach would extend as far south as Brazil and across the wide Atlantic to Spain and Portugal. The United States, skeptical and derisive of any supernatural developments outside its borders, would also be brushed by the Chupacabras' dark wings.
Anatomy of a Paranormal Pandemic
WANTED: Chupacabras--the Goatsucker--variously described by witnesses as standing between 4 and 5 feet tall; covered in greenish brown or blackish grey fur; spindly arms ending in claws; powerful hind legs enabling it to jump over fences; a thin membrane under its arms that have been described as "wings"; glowing red eyes; has a crest of glowing appendages running down its back; estimated weight at some 100 pounds; has been known to use telepathic powers against human witnesses. Suspect is unarmed but considered dangerous. Contact your nearest police station.
These descriptions, gleaned from dozens of cases in a number of countries, coincide on the details that make this aberrant being a fascinating subject for study. Here we are faced with the ultimate chimaera: a being described as being able to fly or float, but with a body/mass ratio in excess of the size of its wing-like appendages; self-luminous eyes, and perhaps most amazing of all, the resemblance of its head and eyes to that of the so-called "Greys" that have become a staple of contemporary ufology, grafted onto a tail-less, kangaroo-like body. This identikit image was made even grislier by the addition of a proboscis emanating from the creature's mouth, employed to suck the blood out of its victims.
Eminent Puerto Rican ufologist Willie Durand Urbina offers information concering the mini-wave of animal mutilations which took place in the early 1990's, prior to the appearance of the Chupacabras. The events began in March 1991 and centered around the Lares, P.R. area: residents of Barrio Pezuelas filed complaints with the police regarding the deaths of pigs, geese, chickens and other animals whose carcasses presented fang marks on their throats and had been completely drained of blood. Many of the animal owners told the police that they had seen "a strange animal" hiding in the exhuberant vegetation of the hillside; some eyewitnesses described the alleged perpetrator as an ape, while others insisted that it was much larger in size than a normal dog, and completely black in color. However, Wilfedo Cubero, a director of the Cuerpo de Investigación Criminal or CIC, insisted that no notice of these cases had ever been given to his agency. Nor had any specimens of the mutilated animals been collected by official agencies for formal autopsy purposes. When nine pigs were found exanguinated near the outskirts of Camuy, on the Atlantic shore, Civil Defense Director Aníbal Román would summarily dismiss the case as "the handiwork of a hungry dog."
The benign neglect of the authorities prompted the affected citizenry to take matters into their own hands: like extras from a horror movie wandering through the night with torches, the residents of Barrio Pezuelas armed themselves with clubs and went out to find and liquidate the "vampire" bent on destroying their livestock. Fear spread across the mountainous rural area. Children were forbidden by their elders to walk alone along the country roads or to be out of their homes after seven o'clock at night.
Héctor Colón, a public school teacher, would soon become the spokesman for the terrified residents of Barrio Pezuelas. Himself a farmer, he appeared on radio shows and in newspaper features to stress that the situation experienced by his community was highly unusual. "I'm a farmer and can tell you that these deaths are abnormal," he declared on a radio interview on Lares radio station WGDL on April 4, 1991. He went on to describe the finding of a large boar that very morning which had been completely drained of blood and sported fang-marks on its neck. The aggrieved locals soon began accusing the police of not wanting to look into the matter so as to avoid presenting reports on the high strangeness deaths.
As spring turned imperceptibly to summer, the vampiric activity moved from Lares to Aguada on the Mona Channel, the body of water separating Puerto Rico from the island of Hispaniola. Planters and livestock owners of that community's Barrio Lagunas began experiencing losses in June 1991 to a predator equally in killing animals as in tearing banana trees apart to feed on their succulent tender hearts. The island media soon christened the beast "Comecogollos" -- the Banana-Tree Eater.
The jocose moniker did nothing to assuage the fiend's temper. Frightened eyewitnesses described it as a manlike, hairy creature weighing some sixty pounds, strong enough to kill a dog and a goat and tear its way through plantain groves. Manuel Rivera, a planter and businessman in Lagunas, complained to the press that not a single government agency had paid attention to the matter, and that the police refused to respond to calls involving the strange creature. A number of goats slain by the hairy being had to be buried when no official agency turned up to perform autopsies.
In July 1991, officialdom began having a change of heart. Juan Morales, Regional Director of the Civil Defense for the Arecibo area, indicated that the persistence of animal deaths and creature sightings merited careful investigation, while at the same time hestitating to venture any opinions as to their possible cause. The cause of his about-face was almost certainly the unexplained slaying of twenty goats in the Quebradas Sector of Camuy. The twenty lifeless animals all had the same fang-marks on their throats and had been drained of blood.
Their interest had come about too late. By the time elements of the Civil Defense had reported to Quebradas, the dead goats were too far along the decomposition process to subject their carcasses to scientific analysis. But the startling admission that none of the goats had been slain by dogs was made by the same Regional Civil Defense office.
To cap off the high-strangeness events of 1991, government agencies on the offshore island of Culebra, to the west of Puerto Rico, found themselves faced with the appearance of a "mystery cat" -- a one hundred and fifty pound feline, grey in color -- seen by personnel of the Natural Resources Department and of the Conservation and Development Agency on Culebra's Playa Flamingo. The authorities confessed their bewilderment at how a large feline could have appeared "out of thin air". The outcome of their efforts was never made known to the public.
Horror Made Manifest
After remaining in abeyance for four years, the mutilations started again, this time in the municipality of Orocovis, in the heart of Puerto Rico's mountainous interior. Sickening feelings of deja-vu welled through the hearts of farmers who stumbled upon the silent carcasses of their animals: a new round in the struggle with the unexplained had begun.
On March 21, 1995, word of the strange events replaying themselves in the center of the island was broadcast by the media. The focus of attention was a locality called Saltos Cabra outside Orocovis, Puerto Rico. Reserachers José A. Rodríguez and Federico Alvarez Frank promptly visited the area on March 22, 1995 to inspect the property of Mr. Enrique Barreto, the dead animals' owner. After visiting the municipal police headquarters in search of directions, the researchers arrived at their destination. Mr. Barreto, a lifelong resident of the community and an employee of the Municipality of Orocovis, was considered to have impeccable credentials.
Barreto's testimony indicated that the animal deaths began on March 10, when realized some certain sheep were missing at feeding time. Puzzled as to the situation, he was later shocked to find a consderable number of his flock dead. Saddened but not overly preoccupied, he didn't think to file a police report, ascribing his losses to the predatory activities of some wild dog. But when more animals turned up dead in the days that followed, the farmer was intrigued by the unusual puncture marks on their necks. It was then that he decided to file a complaint with the municipality's police.
Researchers were quick to seize upon the most obvious evidence on the Barreto property -- the strange three-toed footprints covering the ground. This fact ruled out a dog or wild cat attack, since canines and felines have four toes. Further analysis proved there was an 18 inch distance between footprints, suggesting that whatever creature they belonged to was bipedal rather than quadrupedal. Its weight was estimated at between 120 and 140 pounds.
Alvarez and his group took Geiger counter readings of the sheep. "The incorrupt sheep," Alvarez notes in his report,"gave off readings of .011 on a scale of 1000 (110 rads, in other words), which is somewhat high [...] The spine of another sheep also produced readings of .011 rads. After the corresponding analysis, the conclusion was reached by one of our experts in nuclear medicine that the radiation emitted by the dead sheep was not irradiated but injected intravenously, judging by the reading found on the dead animal's spinal column. Hence the delayed decomposition process in the carcass."
But although no trace of the mutilator or mutilators were found, a high-strangeness event soon befell one of the investigators, José A. Rodríguez, in the vicinity of a cave, suspected to be the hideout of the creature causing the mutilations. Rodríguez experienced the sensation that something was watching him, and felt mysteriously compelled to head for a nearby gully, falling into it and receiving head wounds. Police officers took the wounded Rodríguez to a nearby hospital to have his injuries seen to.
While animal mutilations continued throughout the remainder of the spring and summer, it was not until August that the creature known as the Goatsucker would finally enter the stage, choosing not landlocked Orocovis but the coastal town of Canovanas for its debut.
Canóvanas is a prosperous community that benefits from its location on Route 3, which handles the heavy traffic between San Juan on one end and Fajardo on the other. The majestic, mist-enshrouded peaks of El Yunque are only a stone's throw away, and the excellent beaches of Luquillo attract thousands of local and foreign tourists. Canóvanas also boasts the spectacular El Comandante, one of the finest race tracks in the entire world. It was this fortunate piece of real estate that the gargoylesque creature called the Chupacabras would select as its own.
Madelyne Tolentino and her husband, José Miguel Agosto, have the distinct privilege of beign the first witnesses to the creature. During the second week of August 1995, at approximately four o' clock in the afternoon on a weekday, Ms. Tolentino looked out a window at her home and saw a young man walking backward with an expression of indescribable fear on his face, as if something horrible were about to pounce on him. She then noticed that a strange creature was approaching the house at a moderate pace, allowing her to take a good, long look at the aberration. Whatever it was stood four feet tall and had a pelt covered in a mixture of colors ranging from brown to black and ashen grey, as if it had been burned. Tolentino added that the entity had gelatinous dark-grey eyes and spindly arms ending in claws. "To me, it couldn't be anything from this world," she would later tell reporters.
Her momentary fascination with the entity came to an end when she realized the enormity of the experience. Shouting, she called for her mother to witness the surreal event. Her mother would later add that it had a coppery plumage running down the length of its back and that it moved in a series of short hops, like a kangaroo, but lacking the marsupial's characteristic tail. The creature ran into an overgrown field, and Ms. Tolentino's husband and other resients of the same street gave chase, but the creature was nowhere to be found.
The supernatural predator appeared to have found an abundance of easy prey in the Canóvanas area and concentrated its attacks there for the next six weeks.
On September 29, 1995 the creature killed an assortment of rabbits, guinea hens and chickens at a farm belonging to Felix Rivera in Guaynabo's Barrio Santa Rosa. A week later eyewitnesses claimed to have seen a beast "hairy like a bear" in Canovanas again: a young man named Misael Negrón allegedly observed the entity for ten minutes from the balcony of his home. He added that the creature appeared to take a great interest in its surroundings and stood up suddenly when it realized that Negrón was watching it. Both creature and human beat a hasty retreat from one another. Misael's brother Angel would claim the following day that he had been pursued by creature after seeing it standing beside a dead
The people of Canóvanas, daunted by their unwelcome visitor, found a champion in a most unlikely source: their own mayor, the Hon. José "Chemo" Soto. On October 29, having organized a citizen militia of up to two hundred people, Soto led a series of nightly hunts for the elusive creature, equipping his posse with nets, tranquilizing dart guns and other non-lethal means. Some decried the gesture as useless, in the face of the powers ascribed to the creature, and others ridiculed the mayor for his gallant effort, but it represented the very first response against the bloodsucking visitor from anyone in an official capacity.
The mayor's plan involved trapping the creature by using a goat as bait. Volunteers crafted a sizeable cage, made out of the welded iron fencing commonly found on the island, and deposited in a field: The Chupacabras, however, was not quite so easily fooled. Its exploits were now being reported from one end of the island to another, causing many to wonder, with increasing dread, if the Chupacabras were not one but many. One case involving a prestigious pharmaceutical company on the island dealt with the inability of the security staff to find guards for its "graveyard shift" since one guard reported seeing three Chupacabras-like creatures on the premises. The terrifying sight prompted the watchman's resignation.
The balance of 1995 was filled with senseless animal deaths and choking feeling of terror among rural residents. Police officer José Collazo would become one of the growing number of citizens having their own close encounters with the non-human attacker. At eleven o'clock at night, as the off-duty police officer and his wife were getting ready for bed, Collazo heard the unmistakeable sound of his car alarm go off in the carport. Fearing thieves were trying to spirit away his new Toyota, he approached the door to the carport with his .357 Magnum in hand. The sight that greeted him would later make him wish that it had indeed been something as mundane as a car thief!
Collazo found his dog growling and keening, engaged in a struggle to the death with what he at first took to be another dog. He then realized that a bizarre creature was overpowering his pet Chow and digging its fangs on the hapless canine's back. Firing a dead-on shot at the creature, Collazo was even more startled to see it roll into a ball--sticking its humanoid head between its legs -- and hurling itself against one of the carport walls, bouncing out of the open-ended structure. When asked by reporters if he could have fired another shot and killed the creature, the officer sheepishly admitted that he had been afraid of damaging his new car.
The brief encounter with the unknown yielded a wealth of physical evidence: the creature left behind tufts of coarse hair and samples of its blood on the carport floor and walls. A nauseating reek remained in the air for a number of days.
Physical Evidence and Scientific Naysaying
The growing number of Chupacabras sightings around the island was starting to create a considerable number of physical traces which were being collected and analyzed with unsatisfying results. Dr. Hector García, a veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture's Caribbean Veterinary Laboratory, remained steadfast in his belief that "feral dogs and monkeys" were ultimately responsible for the spree of animal mutilations. After performing twenty autopsies in the last three months of 1995, he insisted that none of the animal carcasses brought to him for analysis presented any perforations in the jugular vein, which would have been the likeliest location for a predator to suck blood. The dead animals, he pointed out, had the amount of blood one would expect to find in carcass, putting paid to the exanguination hysteria. Pneumonia, hepatitis and animal bites were likelier causes for the deaths.
García would soon find his ideological opposite in Dr. Carlos A. Soto, a veterinarian who felt no compunctions about saying that his colleagues were utterly mistaken. Admitting that the island indeed had a problem with wild dogs and feral apes, he was quick to note that the entity performing the mutilations was unknown to veterinary medicine.
Performing autopsies on a number of mutilated rabbits, Soto observed that the puncture marks on their bodies were perfect circles measuring some three to four inches in diameter. If the marks had been made with a scalpel, he argued, there would be irregularites on the edges, which were not apparent. If dogs or apes had been the culprits, there would have been the inevitable tearing of the flesh that is associated with said attacks. The vet went on to remark that the wounds on the rabbits in question appeared to have been cauterized, indicating a heat source; one hapless bunny was missing its trachea and esophagus, although the skin around its throat was intact.
Nor could Soto account for one of the more noticeable characteristics of the Chupacabras attacks: the lack of rigor mortis in its victims. The carcass of a dog slain by the paranormal predator remained flexible five hours after the alleged attack, and no coagulation of the blood was apparent.
Dr. Aracelis Ortiz, a forensic specialist in the University of Puerto Rico's School of Medical Sciences, urged that no responsibility be ascribed to either alien attackers or feral animals until having first established a bite pattern on the carcasses. On the other hand, Jose Luis Chabert, director of the Deparment of Natural Resources' Terrestrial Resources Division, noted that not all the incisions found on the carcasses were alike, adding that it was incorrect to state that the animals had been found bloodless. He explained that many of the victims had in fact been slain by breeders of "pit-bull" terriers, who would show off their animals' prowess to potential buyers by staging nocturnal attacks in desolate fields.
While experts ruffled each others' feathers, the physical evidence continued to gather: on November 16, 1995, Mrs. Santa Ramos Reyes was terrified to see a bony, hairy arm come in through the steel jalousies of her bedroom window. The claw at the end of the arm picked up a teddy bear on a dresser and shredded it before its owners horror-filed eyes. The intruder left behind a piece of white flesh and a thick, goo-like substance which her husband, Bernardo Gómez, quickly collected and put in the refrigerator. Subsequent analysis proved the strange meat "was not beef". The whereabouts of this item were never made clear.
The Chupacabras "drool" was reported and collected in a number of cases. On November 23, 1995, a mongrel dog belonging to Demetrio Rivera was attacked in the home's backyard. The sudden response of its owners caused the assailant to flutter into the darkness. Rivera and his daughter Ivette found the pooch covered in a thick, clear goo which later washed off easily; a number of agonizing rabbits, property of Joel Carrillo and his wife Yolanda, were also found covered in the slimy substance during an attack in Gurabo's Barrio Celada. Elements of the Department of Natural Resources took samples of the substance for analysis but no results were ever circulated. Experts speculated that the intruder had swallowed the goo-coated rabbit and later regurgitated it.
The powerful and disagreeable odor emanating from the creature was also reported in many cases: in the Collazo case, a Spanish journalist who smelled a sample of the awful stench, collected in a plastic bag, remained physically sick for days after her experience; Madelyne Tolentino, the initial witness in Canóvanas, characterized the unnatural odor as reminiscent of the pesticide Malathion; Efraín Arce, who had a tussle with the creature in Mexico, described it as having the odor of a rabid animal; the ominous smell of sulfur, reported in the April 1996 attacks, was so overpowering that a group of Civil Defense workers and newspaper journalists were sickened by it. Even Mayor "Chemo" Soto described encountering a terrible stench during his nocturnal forays in search of the creature.
The Conspiracy Quickens
Lost amid the half-hearted attempts at humor and the Procrustean attempts at making the Chupacabras a space alien, a third alternative was quickly emerging--one which linked the mutilations to U.S. military activity that had been taking place over the course of decades. The events at Canóvanas and the Chupacabras encounters in the towns of Juncos and Aguas Buenas--all of them surrounding the El Yunque Rainforest--led some to believe that creature's point of origin could have been anywhere within the 28,000 acres of dense tropical foliage. Might not, conspiracists reasoned, the creature be the product of some biological experiment taking place within the rainforest?
The framework for this conspiracy theory was somewhat sturdier than many expected. Not only had Agent Orange-- the infamous Vietnam War-era defoliant-- first been tested at El Yunque, but radiation tests had also been conducted: between February and April 1965, over 20,000 curies of cesium were released in the rainforest, creating a gap in the canopy and affecting the tropical hardwoods growing there. Military activity was prevalent in the area, with the forest periodically being closed to tourism due to exercises. This verifiable framework was buttressed, in the minds of the public at large, by a shakier one linked to the considerable amount of UFO activity over Puerto Rico since 1987--which invariably involved the pursuit of unidentified aerial phenomena by Navy and National Guard fighters, the cordoning off of sites where alleged alien encounters had occurred by shadowy "Federal Agents" issuing vague threats or very real Special Forces types forbidding access to certain locations. It is believed to this day that the large drug interdicition dirigible or "aerostat" moored to a ground station near Lajas, Puerto Rico has a real mission of detecting the approach of incoming spacecraft.
The conspiracy theorist saw matters with much greater clarity than the journalist, the beleaguered Department of Agriculture functionary, or the UFO researcher: the mutilations were simply the next round in the covert relationship between the U.S. goverment and extraterrestrial intelligences (the large-headed "Greys" so common in '90s ufological lore). Whether the relationship was consensual or hostile was up for debate. Nevertheless, it appeared to be a dangerous dance in which one partner led (the E.T.'s) and the other followed (the chagrined U.S. military). In some scenarios the Chupacabras was an alien creature dumped on earth by aliens for study while the Army Rangers and other Special Forces kept the unwary at bay; in others scenarios, the military turned a blind eye to the creature's depredations possibly in exchange for advanced technology, which was also being tested over the island. It was all part of an emotionally charged scenario in which UFOs were seen to vanish into the premises of the U.S. Army's Camp Santiago in southern Puerto Rico, giant triangular UFOs crossed the skies and "absorbed" hostile U.S. Navy fighters, and casual witnesses to putative extraterrestrial activity or animal mutilations received visits from inviduals in seemingly official capacities, usually bearing cautionary messages or entreating them to remain silent.
The Goatsucker - An International Phenomenon
A case could perhaps be made for paying little attention to the Chupacabras if it had remained circumscribed to the island of Puerto Rico. But in 1996, it (and its cousins) decided it was time to see the world at large.
Miami, Florida, would be the predator's next stop. In February of that year, it killed forty-two animals belonging to Barbara Martínez and exanguinated fourteen chickens belonging to Luis Martin; eyewitnesses in northwestern Miami reported seeing a creature walking erect and covered with thick matted hair at the scene of the attacks. Dr. Virgilio Sánchez Ocejo, who investigated this case and other during the "Florida leg" of the aberrant predatory activity, noted that it ran from February through July 1996.
Mexico's turn would soon be next. On May 2, six goats were found dead along the Rio Grande, their throats presenting the now-characteristic marks associated with the Goatsucker. In the northern state of Taumalipas a taxicab driver reported seeing a five-foot tall creature cross the road in front of his vehicle and effortless hop over the wall of the School of Agronomy, where two dozen goats and sheep were later reported dead.
On May 10, 1996, Mexico's "Primer Impacto" broadcast announced that Teodora Ayala Reyes, a resident of the village of Alfonso Genaro Calderón in Sinaloa, had become the Chupacabras' first human victim--the victim presented what appeared to be "burn marks" on her back, exactly where the creature had clawed her. "It was very ugly," Ayala insisted. "I had my hair up in a bun, and it nearly shredded my scalp." The seaside village was further wrenched out of obscurity after reports of a colossal bat-like creature stalking the area became widespread. All manner of farm animals were being found dead by their owners.
The town of Tlaliscoyan, Veracruz, at the heart of the region's goat-raising area and was also subjected to the mysterious depredatory attacks linked to the Chupacabras' trademark. The death toll quickly rose to sixty slain sheep. Dr. Rafael Lara Palmeros, director of research for Mexico's CEFP, visited the University of Veracruz' Faculty of Veterinary Sciences to find out what measures were being taken deal with the mutilations. He discovered that while authorities had "an awareness of the situation" based on TV and radio reports, the medical establishment was not planning on taking steps to conduct field research of its own.
More human victims began appearing in Mexico: Jose Angel Pulido was the unfortunate recipient of an alleged Chupacabras bite on his right forearm -- two deep puncture marks had apparently been inflicted by an entity described as "hairless and gelatinous to the touch." Pulido showed the grievous puncture marks inflicted to his upper arm on Mexico's TV Azteca. He explained: "It leaped on me when I saw it. I slapped it away and turned to run home. I'm not sure if it ran or flew [behind me]. I didn't believe in this at first. Now I can tell you that I did see it, and I do believe in it."
When José Linares' 23 sheep turned up dead with odd puncture marks in Guazguaro, Michoacan, the wheelchair-bound farmer was so shocked that he could only say that something with two fangs had killed his livestock. When a six-hundred pound cow was found dead in similar circumstances, Mexican federal authorities ordered the municipality to perform the necessary autopsy.
The spokesman for Mexico's National Agropecuary Commission, Francisco Gurría, was interviewed by the broadcast media for official comment on the mutilation spree. "We are not talking about the same creature in all cases," he advised. "After autopsies, we have proven that carnivores are attacking goat and sheep populations due to the drought sweeping across our country. This is a perfectly natural phenomenon."
Reports became even more mind-bending as the Chupacabras--or whatever it was-- outstayed its welcome in Mexico. Four truck drivers made an effort to earn their place in the history books by capturing a creature which had fallen to the ground after having been entangled in high-tension wires. The truckers tried stoning it to death, but the entity managed to limp away, leaving a trail of slime in its wake. Police officers reporting to the Salinas Victoria truck terminal stated that the eyewitnesses' descriptions corresponded with that of the Chupacabras.
The Mexican government maintaned the hard line against the belief that something unnatural could be behind the attacks. Julia Carabias, Secretary of the Environment, decried the destruction of bat habitats by farmers setting caves ablaze in hopes of killing the Chupacabras. Ironically, public opinion believed that the government itself was fostering belief in the creature to distract the public from more pressing concerns.
The infestation was quickly becoming rampant as reports came in from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and as far south as the Amazon Basin, acquiring suitably mythic proportions: Guatemalan farmer Vicente Sosa thought he had seen a black dog with a long tail that suddenly increased in size, becoming a red-eyed beast with enormous eyes. Dr. Oscar Rafael Padilla visited the site of a Chupacabras attack on chicken coops in the Estanzuela region, and remarked on the high radioactivity readings found in the area.
The southern U.S. soon produced its very own bumper crop of Chupacabras sightings. In mid-May 1996, Sylvia Ybarra went out to her backyard in Texas town of Donna only to find that her pet goat had been killed by three inflamed puncture wounds to its throat. The animal had been felled near its shed.
The story spread like wildfire throughout Donna, although local veterinarians assured the owner that her goat had merely been attacked by a dog, and that the puncture marks had simply become inflamed. As had occured in Puerto Rico, the official explanation didn't wash, and this time there was a good reason for it: the Rio Grande basin had been plagued for decades by sporadic sightings of "giant birds" whose manifestations often coincided with mysterious animal mutilations. A Donna rancher had discovered one of his steers in such a condition as far back as 1970.
On May 1st, 1996, the Tucson police received a phone call from the home of José Espinoza in West Tucson. Apparently, something had broken into the house. Mr. Espinoza would later repeat his story to the media, saying that he'd seen a creature with large red eyes, a pointed nose and shrivelled features within the confines of his home. The mind-bending narration had the Chupacabras entering the home, slamming a door, and jumping on the chest of Espinoza's seven year-old son before hopping out of the boy's bedroom window. Footprints and handprints of all sorts were allegedly left on the walls (most of them corresponded to Mr. Espinoza's three year old son).
Heading ever westward, the wave of perplexing animal mutilations eventually reached California, where a construction worker, Roberto García, claimed that a puncture wound on the back of his hand was the result of falling asleep near an open window.
The Orange County resident told the press that he had been awakened from a deep sleep by the sensation of something tugging on his right hand. Pulling his hand away, he saw a sizeable, shadowy figure moving away very quickly. Adding to the "high strangeness" of this account was the fact that García's third floor apartment opened out to nothing but an alleyway below.
With its depredations in the Americas coming to a close, the paranormal predator somehow crossed the Atlantic Ocean and restarted its activities in northern Spain, decimating flocks of sheep in Aragón, the Pyrenees and the Basque Country. Spanish cattleman Ricardo Bárcena lost over twenty sheep and a mare between mid-1996 and early 1997. He remarked that his dead animals "had a puncture in their necks, about as wide as a button and five centimeters deep and bloodless. They were destroyed inside, as if someone had plunged an awl into the animals, causing damage as it was withdrawn." Other reports mirrored the incidents in the Americas in the most trivial details, and veterinarians noted that the wounds could in no way have been produced by a wolf, dog or insect.
¡Yo Quiero Goatsucker!
The Chupacabras phenomenon went from relative obscurity during the Puerto Rican phase to global celebrity after the mainland leg of its unholy tour. This gave rise to the another strange phenomenon: the societal impact of the sightings.
In December 1995, a casual television viewer could not watch an hour's entertainment without hearing comic reference being made to the Chupacabras on Puerto Rican television. A memorable TV commercial for a station had a smiling island beatuy simply saying the word "Chupacabras" at the end of a thirty second segment.
Then came the t-shirts, which tried to shoehorn the paranormal predator into the framework of contemporary culture -- a grey-colored creature standing beside an all-points-bulletin reading SE BUSCA (Wanted) with the perpetrators identifying characteristics; a rural family evacuating their home hurriedly as the Chupacabras stages an appearance; chubby, cartoonish Goatsuckers politely refraining from belching after a mealk; overmuscled, monstrous depictions of the creature reminiscent of the Balrog from Tolkien's Middle Earth.
More permanent material goods than t-shirts could also be found: a number of eating establishments, even a candy store, dubbed either Chupacabras or El Chupa Cabras materialized throughout the Spanish-speaking communities of the U.S., and even sandwiches named after the unknown entity made an appearance. A Chupacabras "psychic hotline" also made a brief appearance.
Mexico, devastated by the financial depredations of a corrupt administration, produced a wealth of items showing disgraced president Salinas grafted on to the Chupacabras' body. Constant reference was made in the land of the Aztecs to the fact that no bloodsucking could have been more damaging or strange than the one inflicted by the errant politician.
The music industry, always on the lookout for the newest trend to immortalize in song, seized on the Chupacabras' notoriety. A merengue orchestra dubbing itself the New York Band took to the airwaves on Latin-oriented stations with their hit single Chupacabras, a bawdy ditty with few reprintable lyrics. A translated sample follows: "The classy Chupacabras/is fit for any goat/kissing their bodies and necks/inside, outside, what the heck/I'll kiss one goat, two goats/three goats, five or more/I'll never lose the taste/for a lovely little goat, mmm!"
Fans of rap music were not dissapointed either. A song in Spanish by rapper Gaby Meléndez claimed: "At El Yunque with my girl one dark night/we were doing stuff, you know/when this thing came into sight/a shady criter with big eyes and bigger fangs/The Chupacabras came out of nowhere/we were surrounded by its gang..." Chupamania lasted ran its fiercest during the summer months of 1996, dying down by December of that same year.
Yes, But What Is It?
Three avenues of thought on the true nature of this predator emerged from the beginning. One held that the being was proof positive of the advanced nature of genetic research and that it had been released into the world to see how it functioned; others claimed that it was an extraterrestrial creature; either an alien probe designed to collect blood from terrestrial livestock or a "pet" left behind by the crew of a passing UFO; still others believed that the Chupacabras was related to black magic. These three viewpoints, of course, were challenged by the skeptics.
The initial urge was to ascribe the carnage in rural Puerto Rico to the activities of Santería practitioners and even black magicians, whose rituals call for blood sacrifice, but the sheer enormity of the slayings soon caused this theory to topple under its own weight. To the contrary, Mexico's Department of Religious Abuses inicated that the bulk of the mutilations were occuring in parts of the country harboring large numbers of satanists and adherents of Santería. Hector Elizondo, a spokesman for this agency, indicated that the mutilations could have been "perfectly orchestrated" by a group of human beings devoted to such religious practices.
Journalistic sources led credence to this belief. Mario Landeros, interviewed by Mexico's El Sol Veracruzano newspaper (5/17/96) stated that the Chupacabras was in fact a giant bloodsucking bat brought to the Americas on a regular basis by a satanic cult known as "Golden Lucifer". An truck accident caused a cage carrying a pregnant female bat to break open, allowing for the chiropterid to fly off into the dense vegetation of the surrounding area. The outbreaks of Chupacabras activity squared perfectly with this event.
The peasantry in the Caribbean and on the mainland believed that only a supernatural creature would be capable of the feats performed by the entity terrorizing their respective countrysides. Some saw it as a sign of the approaching End Times or as the handiwork of a particularly capable sorceror. Religious authorities were quite firm in stating that this belief was not one they shared. Msr. Sergio Obeso, Bishop of Xalapa, indicated that the Church "completely ruled out any supernatural pretentions" when it came to the Chupacabras. Curiously, the Russian Orthodox Church, far removed from the scene of the events, indicated that the Ebola virus, Mad Cow Disease and the Chupacabras should not be construed as divine punishment, but an "invitation to reflection" upon manmade abuses of God's world.
Greatest attention was given to the propounders of an extraterrestrial hypothesis for the predatory creature's origin, particularly in Puerto Rico, where the Chupacabras was linked to a number of UFO cases. However, this appears to have been the exception, since no anomalous activity of that sort appears to have been prevalent in any of the other locations in which animal mutilations and Goatsucker sightings took place. Mexico's Dr. Rafael Lara Palmeros emphatically stated that no UFO sightings had taken place at Chupacabras attack sites.
The genetic experiment theory captured the public's imagination due to a number of media events that had little to do with the creature itself. One of them was a photograph of a laboratory mouse with a perfectly shaped human ear growing out of its back, appearing in the November 6, 1995 issue of Time Magazine. The story by Anastasia Toufexis indicated that the dramatic photo was "the latest and most dramatic demonstration of progress in tissue engineering." The U. Mass/M.I.T. project involved the introduction of a synthetic structure with human cartilage cells grafted under the mouse's skin. Fed by the rodent's blood, the cartilage cells would multiply and form a human ear. A segment of the popular UFO/paranormal program Encounters: The Hidden Truth discussed the possibility of human-ape hybrids thru gene splicing. The creation of "plantimals"--fusions of animal and vegetable cells-- to patented animals, such as the so-called "hupigs"--pigs bred with human genes in order to minimize the danger of rejection during animal to human transplants-- led many to believe that the aberrant bloodthirsty Chupacabras could in fact be the grafting of human (or nonhuman) genes onto marsupial stock, accounting for its outlandish appearance.
The genetic experiment hypothesis captured the minds of veterinary experts in Mexico. Dr. Alfredo Villanueva openly expressed his beleive that the Chupacabras was nothing more than a genetic experiment released by accident or design from a research facility in the U.S. or Mexico. Dr. Villanueva used ultrasound to scan the wounds on the animal carcasses; his findings corroborated those of his Puerto Rican counterparts -- the puncture marcs extended deep into the animals' vitals. Subsequent analysis proved that said organs had been entirely drained of blood.
Belief in the genetic manipulation scenario was further fueled by the discovery of a "mutant" rabbit during the Mexican events. The newborn bunny, discovered in Veracruz's Ortiz Rubio neighborhood, presented fully developed claws and dorsal muscles which veterinarians thought could be incipient wings. Was some sinister project underway to blend bats and rabbits? Desiderio Aguiar, Secretary of Citizen Protection for the state of Sinaloa (northern Mexico), pointed out that scientists studying the mutilation outbreak in his state believed they were dealing with a "mutation on the cellular level".
The events surrounding the Chupacabras' initial eruption into popular awareness are now many years behind us, allowing for a less heated atmosphere in which to debate its origin and even its existence. Episodes involving a nocturnal predator similar to the Chupacabras are still taking place in Brazil, although the animal described in these cases is clearly a canid of sorts--long-eared and quadrupedal--whose wounds on animals and humans alike in no way resemble the perfect, circular perforation marks found on cattle and small domestic animals in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
The greater part of the naysayers in all countries steadfastly refused to look at the evidence, choosing instead to offer the same tired explanations for the mutilations (feral dogs, apes, satanists) but never explaining the face-to-face encounters with humans or the odd radiation signatures found in Puerto Rico and Central America (which may or may not have been directly linked to the creature). Most certainly, the feral dogs, apes and satanists are still on the scene. Did they choose to stop killing helpless animals all of a sudden, or did these convenient scapegoats vanish along with the mysterious predator?
But the Chupacabras would find advocates--even friends--in a number of different places: renown cryptozoologist Loren Coleman vigorously defended the creature's inclusion among the realm of biological anomalies studied by his field, even speculating that Chupacabras is a fresh-water, land-oriented variety of Mer-being (the hypothetical classification for Mermaids and Mermen alike) . Parapsychologist and lecturer Peter Jordan, who achieved prominence in de-mythologizing the "Amityville Horror" case of the '70s, worked closely with a number of psychometrists and psychics--many of whom have collaborated with U.S. police departments--in finding an answer to the Chupacabras' provenance and motives, producing a wide array of results mostly leaning toward a terrestrial, non-alien origin to the creature.
Space alien, interdimensional wanderer, escapee from a government biological laboratory or denizen from hell -- it is almost certain that the creature's origin will never be clearly established. However, no one can deny its impact on our postmodern society and on the ever-turbulent disciplines that dare study the unknown.