My fifth quest to uncover the truth of the Puerto Rican beast known as the Chupacabra was in late December 2008. It turned out to be a profitable trip. Pretty much as soon as I arrived, I learned that one particular part of San Juan – Rio Piedras – was living in what could only be termed a state of downright fear. For more than three weeks, there had been sightings, exclusively at night, of a large black cat creeping around the neighborhood. Around four feet long and muscular, it was believed to have killed and eaten at least fifteen pet cats in the area, savaged a sheep or several, and apparently terrified a handful of people who crossed paths with it in the backstreets of Rio Piedras, late on one particular Saturday night.
Local authorities acted quickly. I know this for sure, as I took time out of my schedule to chat with a representative of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico. It was confirmed to me that an official file had been opened on the Alien Big Cat (ABC) encounters, that attempts had been made to humanely capture the beast, and that on three occasions live goats had been used to try and entice the cat to show itself – something which, it was hoped, would allow it to be tranquilized by the police. No luck: just like the ABCs everywhere, this one skillfully avoided all attempts to catch it or kill it.
Since my timing was fortuitous in the extreme, I decided to check out the area for myself. Dating back to the early part of the 18th Century, Rio Piedras is most associated with students, the reason being that the district is home to the main campus of the large and impressive University of Puerto Rico. Despite being a student town, however, Rio Piedras does not have a particularly lively night-life. Indeed, it’s a fairly sedate part of San Juan – aside from when a marauding ABC is on the loose and causing chaos and getting misinterpreted as a Chupacabra.
While most of the locals were reluctant to speak with me, I did strike gold while visiting a particular restaurant, located on Munoz Rivera Avenue. Serving local delicacies and good booze, it had a relaxing, down to earth atmosphere. The good news was that the staff had heard all about the big cat reports, which is not at all surprising, since the animal had been seen practically on their doorstep. When I told them why I was on the island, they were more than happy to chat with me.
It was most illuminating to learn there was talk in town of the ABC actually being a Chupacabra. I asked why this was the case, when the physical description of the creature – a large, sleek, black cat – was markedly different to that of the spiky-backed, bipedal, bat-winged thing of Puerto Rico. The answer was notable: the creature of Rio Piedras always attacked its victims by going for their throats and puncturing them with powerful teeth. Since that was the typical approach of the Chupacabra, it was reasoned that the ABC was actually a deadly vampire. It became immediately evident to me that the staff didn’t realize big cats typically go for the throat, too.
All of this was highly significant, and for one specific reason: time and again on my treks around Puerto Rico I have come across cases of alleged chupacabra attacks that, in reality, are clearly the work of something else. In this case, a large cat. That’s not to say I think the mystery of the Chupacabra can be dismissed – in fact, quite the opposite. But, when it comes to the matter of mauled and killed animals, there is no doubt that the Chupacabra phenomenon has led to more than a few cases of mistaken identity and misinterpretation.