Chupacabra–literally “goat-sucker”–is a cryptid that hails from Latin America. From Puerto Rico to Mexico, the beast is said to attack livestock and drain the blood from the carcasses of goats and other farm animals.
The legend emerged in the 1990s in Puerto Rico. A trail of dead animals, intact but drained of blood, led tales of a bipedal monster with red eyes, sharp spines, and a horrible appetite for blood. But what’s the truth behind this beast?
Since the first sighting in 1995, the legend of the chupacabra became mixed up with another, similar menace to Latin America. Namely, wild dogs or coyotes suffering from extreme mange. These hairless, seemingly deranged creatures attacked livestock out of desperation due to their painful condition. Most scientists will tell you that the legend is nothing but canines with an overgrowth of Sarcoptes scabiei.
I’ll spare you having to look at a poor creature afflicted with full-body mange, but it is a sickening sight.
Loren Coleman, the director of the International Cryptozoology Museum, has a different perspective. The original reports of a more humanoid creature from Puerto Rico became lost in translation, Coleman claims.
“Because of the whole confusion—with most of the media reporting chupacabras now as dogs or coyotes with mange—you really don’t even hear any good reports from Puerto Rico or Brazil anymore like you did in the early days. Those reports have disappeared and the reports of canids with mange have increased,” Coleman said.
One possible explanation for the imaginative description of the OG chupacabra? The 1995 sci-fi horror flick Species.
That movie starred Natasha Henstridge as an alien-human hybrid intent on seducing a human man. Part of the movie was filmed at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, increasing interest in the film there. The monster moves hunched over, with large spines on her back and huge, glassy eyes.
Researcher Benjamin Radford spent five years trying to track down the true origins of the story. He eventually tracked down the first person to see a Chupacabra, a housewife named Madelyne Tolentino. He attributes the rapid spread of the story to the dawning of the internet at the same time.
“I was of course initially skeptical of the creature’s existence,” Radford told the BBC. “At the same time I was mindful that new animals have yet to be discovered. I didn’t want to just debunk or dismiss it. If the chupacabra is real, I wanted to find it.”
Regardless of its origin, the legend quickly took hold of the public’s imagination. Tales of the chupacabra spread throughout Latin America and into the American Southwest.
The public fascination led to the truly nightmarish spectacle of the 2005 movie Chupacabra Terror, starring John Rhys-Davies at what had to be a nadir of his long and illustrious career.
According to Bradford, however, the myth of the chupacabra lives on thanks to deep-seated distrust of the United States in the regions where this cryptid is most often cited. Conspiracies about secret government testing or genetic engineering thrive; in fact, Loren Coleman suggested that the original chupacabra might have been a rhesus monkey escaped from a research lab.
Even though the “chupacabra” bodies that have thus far been discovered proved to be dogs or coyotes with mange, the strange creature Ms. Tolentino saw that night in 1995 has never been fully explained.