Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.
In some parts of Latin America, people are genuinely scared of the Chupacabras. Mention its name to some – especially in the rural areas of Puerto Rico and the Central American countries – they will shudder in fear.
The farmers, peasants and others living in the region will tell endless tales of a nocturnal beast with an insatiable appetite for the blood of livestock and -- in very rare instances -- humans.
In recent years, the legend of the Chupacabras has exploded. Accounts of supposed sightings have spread from its place of origin in Latin America and the US territory of Puerto Rico to places such as China, Indonesia, and mainland United States.
Many, who claimed to have seen it, swore it was the legendary beast. However, eyewitness accounts are historically not reliable ways to prove they exist. There is also the possibility that those that have seen it may have been misidentifying them for common animals such as coyotes or foxes.
Call them boogeymen, monsters, aliens or cryptids; the supposedly mythical Chupacabras are very real to many. Thus, it begs the question: Are people really seeing the legendary bloodsucker or are they misidentifying other beasts of the wild? Whatever the case may be, it's rattling a lot of nerves.
New Beast in the Jungle
It’s tempting to believe that the legend of Chupacabra (or Chupacabras) is several hundred years old. However, the first documented sighting of the beast goes back to 1995. Most sources place the origin of these initial sightings to rural Puerto Rico. There, farmers reported finding goats and other farm animals “dead with puncture wounds and a loss of blood.”
The “beast”, as many believed it to be, was given a name, which roughly translated to “goat sucker” from Spanish (interestingly, one man, Puerto Rican comedian, author and radio DJ Silverio Pérez was credited with coining the term).
To a degree, the eyewitnesses may have been onto something. It turned out that there was more to the Chupacabras than one thought.
Initially, authorities investigating the mysterious deaths concluded that stray dogs were the culprit. However, many residents in the island’s interior didn’t believe the findings; they were convinced that an unknown beast was suspect.
In part (and due to certain factors), the eyewitnesses described something that didn’t look like stray dogs. Many were convinced that an unknown, demonic beast was lurking in the dark jungles. To a degree, the eyewitnesses may have been onto something. It turned out that there was more to the Chupacabras than one thought.
Accounts about the Chupacabras varied. Some claimed they were bipedal while others described a beast on four legs. Other differing descriptions included “demonic” red eyes, mane running along the back, and very sharp claws.
Still there were few tantalizing traits shared among the accounts. Nearly all accounts described the animal as having:
- smooth or hairless skin,
- big “glowing eyes”,
- a snout,
- Sharp teeth, and
Some eyewitnesses (as well as a few artist renderings) described something akin to the “grays” from the alien/UFO lore crossed between a wild beast with razor-sharp teeth and claws.
To make matters terrifying, most eyewitnesses spotted this beast (usually alone) either mauling livestock or standing over a freshly killed one. Just about all accounts described puncture wounds on the carcass’ necks or upper torso with signs of drained blood nearby.
Chupacabras Leave the Island
Within five years of its first report, the legend of the Chupacabras spread throughout the Caribbean and onto the mainland in the Central American and South American countries. Later, it headed north into Mexico where the accounts gained infamous traction throughout the countryside. In addition, some claimed they saw it roaming urban and suburban streets in the dead of night.
Eventually, the Chupacabras sightings popped up in Southwestern United States, especially within the Hispanic communities.
Reports began to spread around the globe. They came from the Philippines, China, Indonesia, and Russia. It seemed within a short time, the Chupacabras went from being a local legend to a global phenomenon.
Flaws in the Eyewitness Account
Yet, with all the publicity, one had to wonder if there was anything compelling in the accounts that proved that the Chupacabras was the real deal.
There were some compelling flaws in the accounts. They were:
- Sightings made from afar.
- Most if not all the accounts occurred at night.
- Many accounts placed in bushy areas or places that obscured the view.
- Many attacks occurred in regions with large coyote, fox or wolf populations.
As a result, these flaws affected the perception of the contours, size and physical features of this mysterious beast. In addition, some of the most distinctive accounts such as the glowing eyes and the hairless bodies are not as unique in nature as many perceived it was.
“Glowing” eyes are often associated with nocturnal predators. It’s not necessarily natural either. Often, animals such as wolves, coyotes, panthers, and dogs (both domesticated and wild) will hunt under the moonlight.
Moonlight may reflect off their eyes, giving the impression that they glow. In addition to that, it’s likely that many witnesses had flashlights or other sources of artificial lights with them. This, too, can reflect off their eyes and give the same impression to an eyewitnesses.
Accounts of the red eyes, however, doesn’t seem to have much credibility to it. It was possible that red lights may have caused it. On the other hand, it may have been an exaggerated or false report.
Fear Can Distort
Glowing eyes in the middle of the night is enough to terrify anyone. And when this happens, fear takes over the eyewitnesses, especially to the point that what they see may not be clear.
In her thesis, “Eyewitness Memory: How Stress and Situational Factors Affect Eyewitness Recall”, Anne Yilmaz wrote, “ For eyewitnesses, high stress levels are typically due to fear—whether it is fear for their well-being or the well-being of others.”
She continued by stating: “There are two main effects of high stress in eyewitness: decreased encoding of information in general and a narrowing of attention to specific stimuli.” (Page 12).
In other words, according to Yilmaz, fear adds to stress, which affects the ability for person to recall all the details of an event.
For those seeing a vicious beast attack their livestock, one can surmise that this is an extremely frightening, albeit stressful, moment for them.
Parasites Create the Monsters
Still, many reports, if not all, contains something about the animal’s hairless skin. This doesn’t appear to be a form of stress and fear affecting the these people’s eyewitness accounts.
A National Geographic News 2010 article indicated that evolutionary biology – in terms of a parasite – may have played a huge role in the appearance of the “Chupacabras”
Over the years, several biologists investigating the Chupacabras sighting noticed that many of the them mirrored known predators afflicted by a skin disease known as mange.
As the article, written by Ker Than, details, mange is “a painful, potentially fatal skin disease that can cause the animals' hair to fall out and skin to shrivel, among other symptoms.”
The disease is the result of mites (Sarcoptes scabiei). These particular mites are also responsible for causing scabies (an itchy rash) in humans. They tend to burrow under the skin of humans and nonhuman hosts and deposit eggs and waste byproducts (National Geographic, 2010).
However, as Than points out, humans have evolved to the point that it becomes nothing more than a minor rash. This is not the case for canines and other wild animals, in which it can be potentially lethal.
According to Kevin Keel, a wildlife-disease specialist for the Southwestern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia (and a “witness” of the alleged Chupacabras) he understood how sightings of these inflicted coyotes could confuse eyewitnesses.
“It still looks like a coyote, just a really sorry excuse for a coyote,” Keel stated in the National Geographic News Article, “I wouldn’t think it’s a Chupacabras if I saw it in the woods, but then I’ve been looking at coyotes and foxes with mange for a while. A layperson, however, might be confused as to its identity.”
Bloodsucker or Not?
In many respects, researchers have made a strong case that the Chupacabras were actually misidentified animals such as wolves, coyotes, or other canines (some reports indicated they were large raccoons or small bears).
However, many eyewitnesses stated that the animals targeted livestock and appeared to have sucked their blood. Again, the researchers pointed to an actual culprit in the animal kingdom, as well as some possible myth surrounding it.
The National Geographic article contained an interview with another researcher, Barry O Conner, a University of Michigan entomologist who specialized in Sarcoptes scabiei.
“I think that’s pure myth"
— Barry O Conner, a University of Michigan entomologist
“Animals with mange are often quite debilitated,” O Conner stated in the article. “And if they’re having a hard time catching their normal prey, they might choose livestock, because it’s easier.”
When asked about the eyewitness account of blood sucking, O Conner was dismissive of the claim.
“I think that’s pure myth,” he stated.
He was not the only one who felt this way. Other researchers have dismissed this part of the accounts as mere exaggeration or a mis-identification by eyewitnesses.
The deadly effects of mange may explain another aspect about Chupacabras; nearly all existing photographs of the supposed cryptid are the dead ones found on the side of a rural road.
Chupacabras are urban legends; however, some legends have some element of truth. There’s no doubt that eyewitnesses spotted something attacking their livestock; however, many didn’t get a clear view and possibly couldn’t make out the shape of a known predator in the area.
To make the matter more compelling, the creatures they spotted had a skin condition that could easily obscure the typical features of a coyote, fox or wolf. The mange they suffered from made them more menacing and mysterious than before.
In a sense of irony, the evil, monstrous Chupacabras eyewitnesses thought they spotted were actually creatures debilitated by a disease that would eventually kill them.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Dean Traylor
Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on August 28, 2019:
Hey Jodah, thank you for reading...i myself was surprised that something like this legend can emerge in modern times; however, the chipacabra comes at a time and place when public distrust in government explanations was (and still is) at an all time high. Also, some of that distrust seems to be leveled at scientists and academics, too. I didnt mention this in the article, but i believe it can be a potential component as to why some people still believe in it...even if the appearance of a coyote with mange is apparent.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 28, 2019:
A very interesting article, Dean. It is strange how recently the Chupacabra legend started and how sightings have increased and spread. There are usually some facts behind all legends, but those photos have to be coyotes. None of the animals that it could have been mistaken for are blood suckers however, so how can that be explained?