Texas 'Chupacabra' Turns Out to Be Imposter
A man in Ratcliffe, Texas, claims he captured what could be the legendary chupacabra.
Courtesy of Jerry Ayer
March 22, 2011 --
Chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast that supposedly terrorized victims both north and south of the border, turns out to have originated with one woman’s viewing of the 1995 science-fiction thriller Species, according to a new book authored by a leading scientific paranormal investigator. In Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore (University of New Mexico Press), Benjamin Radford concludes that the entire myth traces back to an August 1995 "chupacabra sighting" by moviegoer Madelyne Tolentino in Canovanas, Puerto Rico.
Tolentino described a four- to five-foot-tall beast with alien-like eyes, long claws, spikes down its back and more -- a dead ringer for "Sil," the monster star of the horror film Species (pictured here), Radford told Discovery News. "She gave an incredibly detailed description that included everything from the monster’s number of fingers to its genitalia," he said. "A sketch based on this went on the Internet, where the story went viral."
Radford, who has a degree in psychology, spent years investigating the chupacabra, even traveling to Puerto Rico and the jungles of Nicaragua in search of information about the creature. After the lengthy investigations, he doesn’t think Tolentino intentionally made up the sighting. "There’s a phenomenon known as confabulation, where people confuse things seen in dreams or movies as happening in real life," he explained. "It's a natural, normal thing, and there was a fertile social ground for her story." He said that vampire tales tend to emerge out of periods of tremendous political and economic uncertainty and tension. Different versions of the vampire story have been spun all around the world. "In early 1990s Puerto Rico, there was a preexisting belief that something weird was attacking animals and draining them of their blood," he said. In this photo, Radford consults with a tracker in the jungles of Nicaragua, searching for a population of chupacabras.
In March of 1996, Tolentino's account was shared on The Cristina Show, which Radford describes as "the Spanish language version of Oprah." In the years since, chupacabra sightings have been reported in several Texas cities, Nicaragua, and other places. An alleged chupacabra track taken from a sighting in Florida, widely considered to be a hoax, appears here.
As time passed, the word "chupacabra," which means "goat sucker" in Spanish, was tied to any unusual looking animal, usually lacking hair and flashing big teeth. DNA studies on some of these animals reveal they were primarily dogs and coyotes suffering from the skin disease sarcoptic mange. "The disease causes their skin to tighten up and makes their teeth look more fearsome," Radford said. As for the supposedly blood-sucked victims -- usually chickens, goats and livestock -- he explained that dogs and coyotes often attack multiple animals in a group by biting them on the neck. Not all of these animals die outright and are consumed. Some die of internal bleeding and suffocation, with their dead bodies "giving the illusion of vampirism."
Jan Harold Brunvand, professor emeritus of folklore at the University of Utah, believes the chupacabra as any kind of credible animal has finally bitten the dust. "Radford drives a metaphorical stake into the heart of the beast. ... His conclusions -- clearly and even humorously reported -- provide the definitive word on this 21st century beast," Brunvand said. Todd Disotell, a professor of anthropology at New York University, sequenced DNA of three purported chupacabras. Disotell also agrees with Radford’s findings, saying he is "impressed at the depth" to which the author delved into the backstory behind the beast. Kenneth Feder, a professor of archaeology at Central Connecticut University, provided these last words on the subject: "As a result of Radford’s riveting work on the chupacabra, the sad critter is now relegated to wandering the halls of cryptozoological fantasy worlds, occasionally encountering Nessie, Champ, Bigfoot and other mythical beasts that go bump in the imaginary night."
Benjamin Radford contributes to Discovery News.
A Texas couple has captured what is being called a baby chupacabra, the legendary animal said to roam the countryside in search of blood. The "Ratcliffe chupacabra," as it's been dubbed, was found Sunday in a tree on the couple's property in Ratcliffe, Texas. But upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the mysterious creature couldn't possibly be the legendary beast.
The defining feature of the chupacabra is that it's a vampire: Chupacabra means "goat sucker" in Spanish, named so because it is said to drain the blood from animals such as goats, chickens and other livestock.
The news and video footage of the small, hairless, caged animal went viral and left countless people scratching their heads, wondering if a chupacabra (unlike Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster) has finally been caught. "In Dewitt County, (Texas), most people are convinced this is the elusive chupacabra," said a reporter with KAVU News, an ABC affiliate based in Victoria, Texas, though a wildlife biologist suggested it might be a dog or coyote. Still, others are not convinced. [Bigfoot to Chupacabra: Our 10 Favorite Monsters]
So, is this animal the elusive chupacabra? It's clear that it's not, because video of the creature broadcast on KAVU clearly shows the Ratcliffe chupacabra doesn't have the anatomical mouth features that would allow it to suck blood, from goats or anything else.
Like several other "chupacabras" found in Texas and elsewhere in recent years, a simple look at the mouth demonstrates that it is physically impossible for the animals to suck blood. The mouth and jaw structures of raccoons, dogs and coyotes prevent them from creating a seal around their victims, and, therefore, physically prevents them from sucking the blood out of goats or anything else. This Ratcliffe chupacabra was not seen nor videotaped sucking blood from anything.
What is it?
So, if the mysterious animal is not a chupacabra, then what is it?
The most likely answer is that it's a raccoon. Animals that have lost most or all of their hair can be very difficult to identify correctly, for the simple reason that people are not used to seeing the animals without hair.
A man in Ratcliffe, Texas, claims he captured what could be the legendary chupacabra.WMUR
Wildlife experts often see wild animals suffering from various stages of sarcoptic mange — a skin disease that causes animals' hair to fall out — but most people do not. Healthy raccoons are instantly recognizable by their signature dark "bandit mask" coloring around their eyes. But when their facial hair falls out due to disease, it becomes much more difficult to identify the animal. [Rumor or Reality: The Creatures of Cryptozoology]
Then, you need to look at other features, including size, behavior and anatomy.
These features suggest that the Ratcliffe chupacabra is, indeed, a raccoon. And though most "chupacabras" found in Texas have been identified as canids (the zoological family that includes dogs, coyotes and foxes), this is not the first raccoon misidentified as a chupacabra. In an article in the March/April 2014 issue of "Skeptical Inquirer," another "chupacabra" found and photographed in the 1950s in Texas was identified by Darren Naish, a vertebrate paleontologist and science writer from the University of Southampton, as a mangy raccoon.
Another clue about the animal's origins can be found in where it was discovered: in a tree. This is a typical place to find a raccoon, but unlikely for a dog or coyote. Furthermore, in a video of the animal, the Ratcliffe chupacabra picks up food with its paws to eat. This behavior is also typical of raccoons. The mysterious critter is currently being fed a diet of corn and cat food, but if the creature truly is a chupacabra, that theory can be easily tested: Put it in a pen with a goat or chicken, and see if it attacks them and sucks out its blood.
The reason that the Ratcliffe chupacabra has been called a chupacabra is not that the mysterious animal's characteristics match those of the legendary vampire — because they don't — but instead because those who found it didn't know what else to call it, according to the book "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" (University of New Mexico Press, 2011).
The original chupacabra, whose image came from the 1995 science-fiction film "Species," was of a bipedal, spiky-backed monster with glowing red eyes. That chupacabra has faded into folklore and myth, but over the past decade, any strange animal whose identity is not immediately obvious is often dubbed a "chupacabra." The word has become a sort of catch-all term for weird animals, living or dead. It's not surprising that the chupacabra continues to be found, whether it exists or not.
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This story originally appeared on LiveScience.com.
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