So far as can be determined, the menacing Chupacabra first surfaced in March 1995, twenty-five years ago. That was when numerous animals – mainly goats – were found dead in the towns of Morovis (located in central Puerto Rico) and Orocovis, which is situated within the La Cordillera Central mountain range. Locals were plunged into states of near-hysteria by the attacks, which reportedly left animals dead, with strange marks on their necks, and a distinct lack of blood in their corpses. At least, that was the rumor. Since many of the early attacks were on goats, the term, “Chupacabra,” was created. It translates as “goat-sucker.” Matters really began in August 1995. That was when a woman named Madelyne Tolentino – who lived in Canovanas, which is close to the northeast coast of Puerto Rico – changed everything. Madelyne’s description of the creature she encountered, close to her mother’s home, was disturbing, to say the very least. It was a description eagerly embraced by the island’s media and by investigators of monsters and mysteries.
Madelyne told journalists and researchers that the creature was around three feet in height, bipedal, ran in a weird, hopping fashion, had large black eyes, bony fingers on each hand, overly long arms and legs, and a kind of feathery line running down its back. Or, it appeared to Tolentino to be a feathery line: a young boy employed by Tolentino’s husband claimed that he saw the beast up close and personal and maintained that the feathers were, in reality, sharp spines. The boy also said that the creature possessed a mouthful of vicious-looking fangs. Not only did the people know of the chupacabra and its attacks, they also now knew what it looked like: something straight out of their worst nightmares. A legend was born. Some would say that a legend is all it is.
As someone with a big interest in the field of cryptozoology, I sat up and took notice when the stories of the Chupacabra began to surface in 1995. Indeed, of all the things I investigate, research and write about, Cryptozoology is the number one. It wasn’t until July 2004 that I was able to visit Puerto Rico and investigate the mystery for myself. I was there with a good friend of mine, Jon Downes, who runs the U.K.’-based Center for Fortean Zoology. The reason? We were there with a crew from the SyFy Channel who were making a new (and short-lived) show called Proof Positive. It was during those eight days on Puerto Rico that I quickly came to realize how much interest there was on the island, even nine years after the first sightings in 1995. Twenty-five years later, I’ve now been to Puerto Rico on nine occasions and obtained a wealth of data on the monster. Some of it suggests that the phenomenon is real. Other data destroys some of the more controversial aspects of the story.
Time and again I heard rumors that the Chupacbara lived on blood – or that blood was, at least, an integral part of the creature’s daily intake. It was this angle of the Chupacabra lore and legend that really stood out. But, it wasn’t true. If it shatters some cherished assumptions, that’s too damned bad, but – contrary to what many people believe – there’s no proof of the Chupacabras sucking blood. Even vampire bats do not suck blood. Ever. Instead, when a bat lands on its sleeping prey, it makes a tiny incision, with its razor-sharp teeth, that provokes the flow of blood – in much the same way that blood flows to the surface of our skin when it’s cut. The bat then proceeds to lap the protein-rich blood, rather than suck it. Rather incredibly, if the skin of the prey is covered in significant amounts of hair, the vampire bat has the ability to use its teeth to “shave” the hair away, thus allowing it to feed easier. Most ingenious of all, Mother Nature has taken steps to ensure the saliva of the vampire bat contains anticoagulants that prevent the blood of its prey from clotting. The blood, as a result, runs and runs – and runs even more.
To demonstrate the sheer speed and ability with which the vampire bat can feed voraciously on its victim, a fully-grown specimen can lap around fifty percent of its own body weight in less than half an hour. The vampire bat has a near-unique digestive system that allows its stomach to absorb plasma from the blood. From there, it makes its way to the kidneys, and finally to the bladder. It’s a very quick process, too: from intake to urination, the passage of time is around one and a half minutes. And, like all of us, when it’s done feeding, the vampire bat finds a place to settle down, relax, and let the process of digestion do its thing.
During the course of my investigations on Puerto Rico, barely a day went by when I didn’t hear at least one story of the chupacabra’s vampire-like attacks on livestock and other animals. And I can’t tell you how many times the words “blood” and “draining” (or “sucking”) were used in the very same sentences. Certainly, I uncovered a number of stories from people who claimed their dead animals were subjected to necropsies, and which confirmed that massive blood loss had occurred. The problem, however, was that I was never able to secure even a single, official necropsy report to validate those claims. On the other side of the coin, I have heard more than a few very plausible stories suggesting the assumed, huge loss of blood was actually due to the blood of the dead animals sinking to the lowest parts of the victims’ bodies, after death. What appeared to have been evidence of a significant loss of blood may have really been be due to nothing more than misidentification. Today, I have just about completely dismissed the theory that the creature lives on blood. Even in minute amounts.
That didn’t take away the fact, however, that people were still seeing the creature – regardless of the blood angle. Some witnesses were sure that what they had seen was actually a giant bat. Others described it as a large bird with what appeared to be human-like legs. Then, there were those in the field of conspiracy-theorizing, who believed that the Chupacabras were actually genetically altered monkeys turned into raging, killing machines and let loose in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rain-forest. The scenario told to me was something like a combination of Predator and 28 Days Later! That there was a lot of UFO activity on Puerto Rico led to the inevitable scenario of the Chupacabras being extraterrestrial in nature. And, there was the theory that the monsters were supernatural in origin – things that could be invoked via rite and ritual. A few people supported the admittedly interesting theory that perhaps some of the attacks were the work of escaped large cats.
Today, as we “celebrate” the Chupacabras’ 25th year of infamy, not much has changed – in terms of the theories, the claims and the legends. Based on all of the research I’ve done on Puerto Rico, I still believe there is such a creature – a mysterious animal that has yet to be found and identified. There is another aspect to all of this. Namely, all of the friends I have made on Puerto Rico over all the years, and who I have stayed in touch with. Puerto Rico is a great place, with an equally great culture and a cool history. And Puerto Rican food is superb. And after a hard day of seeking out a Chupacabra or several, there’s a plentiful supply of Medalla beer to chug down. I can easily see myself moving to Puerto Rico one day – all as a result of a quest for the truth of the island’s resident monster.