By Scott Corrales
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
The madness would soon spread to
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
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
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,
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
Canóvanas is a prosperous community that benefits from its location on Route 3, which handles the heavy traffic between
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
On May 10, 1996,
The town of
More human victims began appearing in
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
Reports became even more mind-bending as the Chupacabras--or whatever it was-- outstayed its welcome in
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 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
Heading ever westward, the wave of perplexing animal mutilations eventually reached
With its depredations in the
¡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
Mexico, devastated by the financial depredations of a corrupt administration, produced a wealth of items showing disgraced president
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
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
Journalistic sources led credence to this belief. Mario Landeros, interviewed by
The peasantry in the
Greatest attention was given to the propounders of an extraterrestrial hypothesis for the predatory creature's origin, particularly in
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
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
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
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.
. Correspondence with Willie Durand Urbina, PRRG, May 1997.
. Alvarez Frank, Federico. "Report on Unidentified Flying Objects and Animal Mutilations in
. El Vocero, November 1, 1995.