Unlike U.S. political party members, Chupacabra fans seem to break down into three groups: those who believe in the traditional Puerto Rican, upright, lizardish kind of bloodsucker; those who believe in the hairless coyote-like Texas kind; and those who put the moniker on any unidentifiable dead creature with fangs in any country. (Actually, U.S. political party members break down too, but it’s a breakdown of the other kind.) A mysterious creature discovered and photographed by a boy in Colombia seems to fall into the third category … but maybe not.
"I arrived and I looked out and then there was something all weird like a dog, so I came and told her aunt see that, and my aunt handed me the cell phone to take pictures."
Thus begins the strange tale of Joan Sebastian Arboleda Lombana, a boy living in La Sierra, a village in the Magdalena River valley region of the mountainous Department of Antioquia in central northwestern Colombia. The rough googly translation comes from Noticias Caracol TV (see the video report here), which sent a reporter to interview Joan, his aunt and La Sierra locals who were said to be “dismayed” at the appearance of the corpse of such a strange creature. The pictures (way to go, Joan!) support the boy’s description that the beast looked like a cross between an opossum and a bush dog. While opossums are common in the area, bush dogs (Speothos venaticus) – a remote relative of the South American maned wolf and the African wild dog – are an extremely rare canid found mostly in Suriname, Guyana and Peru. Is the bush dog making a comeback in La Sierra?
"We came to see and we found an animal that was more or less, 70 centimeters long, had a face or a fox head, and hands that were like a kind of gorilla, like a miquito, then it has us. This strange species is quite impacted."
La Sierra resident Martin Prada, one of many locals concerned about the mysterious creature, thought (again, a rough Google translation) it looked more like a gorilla or a monkey (miquito). At 70 cm (27.5 inches) in length, gorilla seems unlikely. Why did some residents, as reported by HDB Noticias, think it was a Chupacabra?
“According to versions of some locals, the creepy creature had been hanging around the homes in the area for several days; especially at night … Several barnyard animals disappeared from the homes of this hot Magdalena Medio population, as a victim of this four-legged 'monster' and an unpleasant aspect.”
Ah-ha! What other creature sneaks around at night and pilfers pets and barnyard animals? OK, a lot of them do, but this corpse didn’t look like any of the more common ones. It’s also 50% larger than the largest opossums. That was enough to call in Corantioquia, the environmental protection organization that is part of integrated urban water management in Medellín, the largest city in Antioquia. Adriana Molina, deputy director of ecosystems of Corantioquia, looked at the creature and had this to say:
"The corporation has already begun the verification process for the identity of this individual, the invitation is for the entire community to report any anomalous or conflictive situation that may occur with wildlife and to maintain calm in these situations."
Yep – they took away the corpse and are verifying its identity. Preliminary observations suggest the creature was suffering from advanced dermatitis – a skin condition related to poor diet, bacteria and fungi. That, in addition to the decay, make it look more like the Texas mangy coyote version of the alleged Chupacabra.
If it’s anything other than an opossum, will they tell the public? It would be nice in a way if it were a bush dog, since that species was just placed on the Near Threatened Species list and this might be a sign it’s surviving and spreading its habitat.
The best part of this story is that Joan got some pictures before the authorities took the creature away. Keep those phones handy and shutter fingers ready and steady -- that thing you spot in your garden could be a Chupacabra!