In search of the Chupacabra

In the third of an expanding series on “cryptids” (those animals which are thought by some to exist but have never been conclusively documented), I thought I would cover the third best-known cryptid: the chupacabra.  Literally, chupacabra means “goat sucker” in Spanish and it was first reported in Puerto Rico in 1995.  This makes it one of the most recent cryptids to have been reported.  Confined almost entirely to Latin America, there have been a large number of sightings since 1995.  The original sighting, in the Puerto Rican town of Canóvanas, reported a small creature with reptilian skin, large eyes and rainbow spines down its back.  However, sightings since have varied in their descriptions and more recent sightings have described dog-like animals with no fur and exuding a foul smell.  Other similar sightings have the creature as large as a bear (these are from Russia and the Phillipines).  The other noted feature of these sightings is the finding of dead animals, drained of their blood (hence the name “goat sucker”).

One interesting thing about this creature is that there is little or no historical myth associated with it – the creature is an almost entirely modern phenomenon.  The other interesting thing is that there are some quite convincing explanations for the myth:

The Original Sighting

Chupacabra drawing and a model of the alien "Sil" from the movie Species (by Andy Wright at Artifex Creations)

The first sighting of the chupacabra in Canóvanas in 1995 was by a woman called Madelyne Tolentino.  While researching his book on the chupacabras, noted skeptic and author Benjamin Radford interviewed Tolentino about the incident.  When discussing the incident, Tolentino mentioned that the creature was remarkably similar to Sil, the alien creature from the movie Species.  Radford discovered that Tolentino believed the events of that movie were actually occurring in the region where she lived.  He concluded that the famous image of the chupacabra was simply based on a science fiction film.

Subsequent Sightings

This finding fitted with the fact that later sightings differed markedly from that original sighting.  Subsequent sightings were all of small, dog-like animals without spines.   These are quite commonly seen and there is plenty of video and still footage of these animals roaming around the US and Latin America.  These animals were exceptionally dog-like, in fact, to the point that many people think they are simply dogs, coyotes or hybrids between the two that are suffering from a bad case of mange.  This argument was put forward most prominently by Dr Barry O’Connor  This disease, caused by the “itch mite” (Sarcoptes scabiei) causes a loss of fur, thickened skin and the foul smell that is reported during sightings.  Furthermore, the animals would be so weakened by the disease that they would be unable to hunt in the usual way which might explain their preying on lifestock instead.

So what does this mean for the legend of the chupacabra?  Well unlike Nessy and Sasquatch we have quite a few samples of what have been reported as chupacabras.  In each case the animal was a dog, coyote or hybrid.  Add to this Benjamin Radford’s findings concerning the original sighting and the easily explicable nature of the animals that were caught and we appear to have a fairly well-debunked cryptid.

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