It often happens as the dusk settles itself gently over the lush rainforest. Farmed animals, confined to pens or herded by human and canine protectors, wouldn’t have a sense of their own vulnerability or the existence of predators, you might think. But somewhere, deep down in their basest primal instincts that reach back to the dawn of time, they must have known it was coming. Even before the whiff of the rank animal in the cool evening air hits them, they have to have known. It was fast, though, and that was a blessing. It didn’t toy with them, or drag it out. It was fast. The unlucky ones watched it happen to another animal first, smelled the creature and the blood and knew deep down it was bad, and they were next; the lucky ones never saw the chupacabra. The humans who cared for the animals would never forget what it left behind.
The chupacabra is a newer monster, or perhaps more accurately a newer cryptid, as these things go. The vast majority of cryptids and monsters harken back to the middle ages at least; werewolf and vampire legends are thousands of years old. Even relative cryptozoological newcomer Bigfoot is centuries old. Some people feel the chupacabra can be traced back to the Moca Vampire of the 1970s, though the creature didn’t have the name, and it seemingly vanished after the incidents in Moca, which has spurred discussion that perhaps it’s not the same creature.
Chupacabras, in the form that we know them today, first appeared in spring of 1995 in Puerto Rico. On March 11, 8 sheep were found dead, said to be fully drained of blood and with strange puncture marks piercing their chests. After reports of this strange incident came to the public’s attention, comedian Silverio Pérez called the creature responsible for it a “chupacabra” – that is, a “goat sucker.” And so it has remained.
The attacks continued through the summer, their perpetrator unknown, until finally Madelyne Tolentino spotted an odd-looking creature near her mother’s house in August of that year. She would later describe it as an upright bipedal creature, at least three feet tall with red eyes and bony fingers, with what looked like feathers along the creature’s spine. An employee of the Tolentinos was also there, though he caught the creature from a different angle. From where the boy stood, he didn’t see feathers, but spines along its back. In its mouth, he saw very sharp teeth.
By August 1995, 150 animal deaths in Canóvanas were said to be the work of the chupacabra, or perhaps an entire guzzle of chupacabras. This was beginning to make many feel like more than a single, freakish animal was at work in the Puerto Rican night. By December of 1995, tabloid speculation had them as monstrously large vampire bats, perhaps accidental stowaways from a cargo ship traveling from South America, where vampire bats live.
A little more than a year after the chupacabra first reared its predatory head in Puerto Rico, there came reports of chupacabras in Juarez, Mexico. The creature was described similarly, in that it had large hind legs and a spiked spine, and was capable of moving both on two legs and on four, but there were different things about this new chupacabra: there were reports that their spinal projections were somehow luminous, and this chupacabra had a sort of proboscis, like a mosquito, in lieu of the sort of mouth one would expect on a mammal.
Literally the next day, another chupacabra was spotted in Northern Mexico. This one had wings. There was the loss of a large number of goats, and one human survived the attack.
Then came Brazil. And then Chile. And on it went.
Chupacabras didn’t properly make their way to Texas until 2004, and Russia in 2006. As late as 2014, Russian authorities still felt the need to inform the populace that a recent spate of animal deaths was not the work of chupacabras.
In truth, the day of the chupacabra has not ended yet. They’re still seen, from time to time, preying on livestock or running across roads, sometimes getting caught by ranchers or shot by hunters. But what is going on here? Certainly, these livestock are dying. What’s causing it?
The jury, so to speak, is still out on that. Some sources claim that the animals weren’t really drained of blood, or were only partially drained of blood. Reports from different sources suggest different things. In one instance that Fortean researcher Nick Redfern was involved in, four peacocks had been killed mysteriously in July of 1998 in Puerto Rico, and the peacock’s owner hired a vet to perform a necropsy on their bodies. The vet found that the birds had lost a considerable amount of blood. And the truth of the damage done to the animals isn’t the only puzzling aspect of these strange slayings.
The chupacabras seem to vary from place to place, and at times person to person: the Puerto Rican chupacabra was frequently (but not always) described as winged, with quill- or feather-like spikes bristling out along its spine, and frequently a sort of tan or perhaps olive colour, between 3 – 5 feet tall. Sometimes they appear almost reptilian. In Mexico they had sucker-mouths and sounded slightly more reptilian. By the time the chupacabra arrived in Texas, it was more clearly a canid of some variety, usually grey, usually with extremely sparse hair and more often seemed to be a quadruped. And indeed, when Texan chupacabra corpses have been tested, the DNA often comes back as canid.
The obvious conclusion here is that, even accounting for the differences in point of view and the vagaries of memory, glimpsing things in the half-light of dusk, these may be different animals. That, by coincidence, two or more new species that prey on livestock appeared within the span of a decade. Regarding which, certainly, stranger stories have been told.
But what are these creatures, the one species or the several? Depends who you ask:
In the original batch of sightings and slayings in Puerto Rico, some believed and still believe that the chupacabras are a convenient cover for occult activities, either by means of trickery or simply by hijacking a pre-existing legend. The same had been said 20 years earlier during the Moca Vampire animal killings, where the slaughtered livestock was drained of blood. In March of 1975, a woman was lacerated by the claws of a feathered beast, the like of which she had never seen before, and that report settled much of the rumblings of an occult conspiracy to hide the animal sacrifice required for ritual. Nick Redfern’s source, Sal, tells of a mysterious sect of Palo Mayombe, which itself developed out of Santeria, and that this mysterious sect had a lot of extreme, dangerous rituals. Perhaps, he suggests, these are the real source of drained livestock in Puerto Rico, and the chupacabra reports are spread by the sect itself.
Another who believes that the chupacabra is the result of intentional trickery is Dr. Fernando Castro-Chavez. It is his opinion that the chupacabras are in reality dogs trained to suffocate their prey. This suffocation results in marks on the necks of the prey animal, as the dogs bite down to asphyxiate their victim. He cites paw prints found at several attack sites and that the evidence doesn’t indicate that the victims were drained of blood, suggesting instead that the blood had settled into the lower portions of the animals. The higher, more accessible parts of the animal, which would be inspected first, would appear to be bloodless. He points out, as well, that the non-flying chupacabras do nothing that trained dogs cannot do. He feels this may be a plot to distract the public from the political decisions being made at the time in Puerto Rico.
If not trained dogs, many believe that the chupacabras are indeed a government plot. There have long been rumours of a secret government laboratory somewhere beneath the El Yunque rainforest , itself the alleged site of a UFO crash in 1957 that was said to have caused mutations in the area’s lifeforms. The area was said to be closed off for nearly a month.
Long before chupacabras had a catchy name, a Puerto Rican woman living in El Yunque found her dog had disappeared from her home. Its poor little corpse was found later, boneless. Other animals also went missing, turning up dead or not at all. During this period, while driving home one night she saw a 4 – 5 foot tall creature, which she had felt must be a massively large bat, dark brown in the car’s lights and with an enormous wingspan of 12 – 15 feet. It had claws, and it had fangs, and it was terrifying. It flew away, and the woman fortunately was left unharmed. Another woman in the area, Rosa, saw a creature of near identical description while driving with a friend in 1990.
The secret lab that had created these terrible creatures is said by some to be located beneath Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, which formally closed in 2004. Rumours suggest strange, grotesque experimentation on non-human primates, attempting to provoke them into becoming vicious, bloodthirsty, and highly territorial.
They may not be genetically-altered killer monkeys, but other primate theories exist. One Moca Vampire witness, then a child, would grow up to identify what she saw as a rhesus macaque. Many have suggested that some chupacabra traits are very simian.
The most intriguing theory, perhaps, is the possibility that chupacabras are thylacines. Also known as Tasmanian tigers, Thylacines were a marsupial dating back to the pleistocene, with a lupine-appearing head with an incredible jaw, tiger stripes along its back, and extremely powerful hind legs, which gave it an odd gait as it switched between bipedal and quadrupedal movement. No living thylacine has been recorded since the last captive thylacine died of exposure in 1936, but there have been a number of unconfirmed sightings over the years. Conservationist Forrest Galante featured the thylacine on an episode of Extinct or Alive, and has gone on record as saying that he believes surviving thylacines may well be behind the chupacabra attacks in Puerto Rico. To add a little science fiction to the mix, there are rumours that thylacines were resurrected in a facility known as Dugway Proving Ground using their DNA, and trained as weapons.
Alternately, the Texan chupacabra may be a coyote, or coyote/wolf hybrid. Nutritionist and rancher Phylis Canion had noticed a number of animals missing from her property in Cuero, TX, and later found a strange creature dead by the side of the road: no hair other than a line along its spine, long teeth, and unusual hind legs, which were very long for a canid and very muscular. Two similar animals were found, also dead, during the following week. She froze the body, which by all reports was a very unusual looking canid, and had it tested. The DNA results indicated that it had coyote DNA, but the specimen is that of a very unusual-looking coyote. Monsterquest also conducted DNA tests from the corpse, and the results indicated that it was a coyote/wolf hybrid. Its paws had three phalanges rather than the expected four. The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service’s educational materials on chupacabras indicate that they are most likely coyotes (and rarely, raccoons) afflicted with severe mange. Mange is an infestation of burrowing mites, whose tunnelling under the animal’s skin causes the loss of hair and a thickened, scaly appearance to the exposed skin. Under its normally full fur, a coyote’s skin is grey, which is consistent with descriptions of the Texan variety of chupacabra. A mange-afflicted animal, weakened due to the infection, will consistently predate on livestock, because they aren’t well enough to hunt wild prey. And perhaps the coyotes have undergone a change in addition to the mange: an evolution of the species, perhaps, in which proportions are different, and savagery greater, but who are efficient, and perhaps caught only when severely weakened. Otherwise, strong and healthy, perhaps living peacefully in the wild in their new, strange bodies.
So what is the truth behind these attacks, not only frightening in terms of the potential harm done to vulnerable humans and animals faced with a chupacabra, but also a travesty for the farmers who have senselessly lost a significant portion of their livelihood? The evidence currently on hand isn’t sufficient to definitively say, but they’re out there. Perhaps the answer lay out there somewhere in the darkness, waiting for the right person at the right time to once and for all solve the mystery of the chupacabra.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Australian Museum. “Thylacine.” The Australian Museum. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Brancato, Dino. Strange Creatures. Lulu, 2014.
Castro-Chavez, Fernando. Trained Canids Formed the “Chupacabras” of 1996 in Mexico: A Journalistic Account. Self-published, 2019.
“Chupacabra on Rampage in Russia.” RT International, Oct. 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Haslam, Gareth. “1975, February~July: The Vampire of Moca.” Anomalies: the Strange & Unexplained, 23 Apr. 2017. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Marcano, Scott. “Crazy Backstories and Theories about El Chupacabra.” Ranker, Ranker.com, 16 Aug. 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
McDonald, Chris. “El Chupacabra: Latin America’s Cryptid Icon.” Ghoulish Media, 27 June 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Moscow Times, The. “Chupacabra Not to Blame in Sheep Deaths, Authorities Say.” The Moscow Times, The Moscow Times, 4 Nov. 2021. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Redfern, Nick. Chupacabra Road Trip. Lisa Hagen Books, 2018.
Redfern, Nick. “Chupacabras? No: Rhesus Monkeys!” Mysterious Universe, 17 Apr. 2019. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Redfern, Nick. “Profiling the Moca Vampire.” Mysterious Universe, 4 Aug. 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “El Chupacabra: the Science Behind a Latin American Mystery.” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
Tharoor, Ishaan. “Top 10 Famous Mysterious Monsters.” Time, Time Inc., 14 Aug. 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2021.Williams, Lawrie. “A Chupas Timeline.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
ABOUT EM HILKER
Obsessed with all things dark and weird from a young age, E. Madelyne Hilker has used every opportunity to steep herself in mysterious lore, and is working on her first novel Hallow Earth. She works as a new media producer by day and crochets like a madwoman by night. Maddy lives in small town Ontario, Canada with her family and a large collection of houseplants.