Whenever the words "Puerto Rico" and "strange creature" are mentioned in the very same breath, there's a natural tendency to think of one thing, and one thing only: the alleged blood-sucking Chupacabra. But, the reality of the situation is that reports abound of additional strange entities roaming both the wild and not-so-wild parts of Puerto Rico. Unlike their far more famous cousin, the legendary Goat-Sucker, however, cases involving these "other things" are seldom discussed - which is a tragedy, given their startling nature.
On a number of occasions now, I have traveled to Puerto Rico in search of the Chupacabra, but, on each and every one of those occasions I have not just come away with new data on the island's very own vampire (according to some at least!), but with copious data on other animals that, clearly, do not match the descriptions or traits attributed to the Goat-Sucker, but which hardly sound conventional either.
And one of the locales that seems to attract much of the attention is Puerto Rico's sprawling and captivating El Yunque rain-forest, or the Caribbean National Forest, which is an amazing sight to behold. It's around 28,000-acres in size, and located in the rugged Sierra de Luquillo, which is approximately 40-kilometers southeast of the city of San Juan. Named after the benevolent Indian spirit, Yuquiyu, El Yunque is the only rain-forest in the U.S. National Forest System.
Packed with lush foliage, sparkling leaves, spectacular waterfalls, shining wet rocks, and shadowy pathways, the rain-forest is a near-magical locale. While large, indigenous, wild animals are surprisingly rare to the point of near-literal non-existence on Puerto Rico, El Yunque is home to the Puerto Rican Parrot, the Puerto Rican boa snake, a multitude of lizards, crabs, and the famous Coqui frog, so named after its strange and unique vocalizations. But, is it home to far more, too? Some say: "Yes."
Norka was an elderly lady living in a truly beautiful home high in the El Yunque rain-forest who I met in 2004. I was on the island with a team from the SyFy Channel's Proof Positive series, and my good friend, Jon, Downes, the director of the British-based Center for Fortean Zoology. As we sat and listened, and as the cameras rolled, Norka told a remarkable story. Although the exact date escaped her, Norka told us that she was driving home one night in 1975 or 1976, when she was both startled and horrified by the shocking sight of a bizarre creature shambling across the road.
She described the animal as being approximately four-feet in height, and having a monkey-like body that was covered in dark brown hair or fur, wings that were a cross between those of a bat and a bird, and glowing eyes that bulged alarmingly from a bat-style visage. Elongated fingers, with sharp, claw-like appendages, that looked like they could inflict serious damage, flicked ominously in Norka’s direction. She could only sit and stare as the beast then turned its back on her and rose slowly into the sky. Large bat-like wings, glowing eyes, a four-foot-tall monster: was a mini-Mothman, perhaps, roaming around Puerto Rico some 35/36-years ago?
But, there's more to come. On the very same trip, one of the island's civil-defense people we interviewed told us it was widely known, but seldom discussed, that El Yunque was also home to a significant colony of large "imported black panthers" that had escaped from private enclosures on the island in the mid-1980s, but whose owners had elected not to inform the authorities, for fear of prosecution. Today, we were informed, their offspring are thriving nicely - perhaps, even, on some of the farm-animals whose grisly deaths have been attributed to the Chupacabra.
Moving on to 2005, when I made a return visit to Puerto Rico, with Paul Kimball of Canada's Red Star Films, we were advised by our guide, a man named Orlando Pla, of a beast supposedly seen in El Yunque on a number of occasions, the description of which sounded suspiciously like the deadly, Velociraptors of Jurassic Park fame!
Then there was the story of Puerto Rico's "giant-bird," as told to me and Paul by a man named Pucho. It was not long after the sun had set on a week-night in February 2005, and Pucho, who lived in a small village - dominated by what is known as the Church of the Three Kings - was walking home and heard a “loud roar” coming from a particularly dense section of trees adjacent to the building.
And, as Pucho explained, he was amazed to see a huge, feathery bird come looming out of the tree-canopy. Oddly, the bird did not merely fly out, but seemed to levitate vertically in the fashion of a helicopter, before it soared high into the air and headed off in the direction of a nearby farm. Stressing that he had never before, or since, seen such an immense beast, Pucho could only watch in stark terror and utter shock until the creature was out of sight. Notably, several days later the farm where the creature was seen flying towards suffered a number of horrifying attacks on its livestock.
Then, on my most recent expedition to Puerto Rico, I was told of a wave of encounters with hairy man-beasts in El Yunque: yep, Bigfoot! So, what on Earth - or off it - is going on?
Ben Radford's new book, Tracking the Chupacabra, demonstrates very clearly that we need to be extremely careful how we interpret data relative to the tales of the Puerto Rican blood-sucker, and his title also reveals that we may need to significantly reevaluate many of our existing thoughts, ideas and conclusions with respect to the beast. But, that there are widespread claims (those I have cited above represent the mere tip of a significantly-sized iceberg) of other, equally extraordinary animals on the loose on Puerto Rico, suggests to me, the story of this definitive "Island of Mystery" is far from over.