My first trip to Puerto Rico - in search of the phenomenon known as "The Chupacabra" - was in 2004. It was with a film-crew from the SyFy Channel's Proof Positive show. I was there for about ten days with a good friend and colleague in the field of "monster-hunting": Jonathan Downes of the U.K.-based Center for Fortean Zoology. I was looking forward to seeing (a) the place itself, (b) its people, (c) its culture, (d) its food and booze, and (e) the nighttime entertainment. Everything was cool. Jon and me had a great time, made new friends, and spent just about every day seeking out the truth of the Chupacabra. Or, at least, trying. And I've continued to pursue the matter of the Chupacabra puzzle ever since (my last expedition was just a few years ago). On each occasion, something new and intriguing surfaced; something that made me wonder what the truth of the beast really was. Like so many people who first heard of the Chupacabra - a strange, violent, spiky creature that was said to live on the blood of animals and that surfaced in 1995 - I was excited. That was the same for each and every expedition. I have never lost that excitement. Nor have I lost the love for Puerto Rico and its people.
Back in 2004, our first thing was to address one of the most controversial aspects of this monstrous phenomenon: namely, the claim that the creatures lived on blood. Mainly the blood of goats, chickens and pigs. Jon and I heard story-upon-story of a vampire nature. There was, however, a problem. While there was no doubt that animals had been attacked and killed, and in a number of places on the island, some of the data just didn't stand up. For example, not just in 2004 - but right up until my latest trip - what looked like bloodsucking was actually a case of the blood of the dead animals sinking to the lower levels of their bodies - something that made it look as if blood had been removed by supernatural means. There's no doubt that the blood-sucking part of the Chupacabra story is a legend. I should stress that I do believe there is something strange and dangerous on Puerto Rico, but overall the vampire angle does not work. There were other predators, too, that became tied to the legend. For example, all across Puerto Rico, and particularly in the little villages and towns, you can see packs of large dogs roaming around - many of which were the type you would not want to cross paths with at all. And I'm a definitive dog-lover! Still on this angle, there are fascinating stories of drug-dealers on Puerto Rico having secretly acquired "Big Cats" that escaped from their compounds and then went on rampages in El Yunque, killing animals and adding even more to the Chupacabra picture.
The most thought-provoking thing that came my way was the claim that the Chupacabra was just a story - a fabrication - created to allow various occult-driven groups on the island go about their secret activities late at night. Those same groups required animal blood for their rituals. So, the groups killed the poor animals, drained them of the blood that was needed, and left the corpses where they were killed. The outcome: the whole situation could be successfully hidden under an ingenious, but undeniably grisly, cover to the effect of "It's all due to to the Chupacabra." If nothing else, the whole thing made a significant amount of common sense. So, where am I with all of this now? Well, that's a very good question. My personal view, from 2004 to 2021, is that the Chupacabra phenomenon is a combination of several phenomena: occult groups that exploited the Chupacabra legend for their own bloody reasons; large cats on the loose, and packs of dangerous dogs. And we should never ignore that issue of what looked like vampirism, but wasn't. It's very easy to make a good argument that the assumed lack of blood in so many animals was because the blood had sunk to the lower parts of the body; something which most assuredly does happen upon death and when the body lays there for a while. It’s all due to nothing stranger than good old gravity.
Finally: do I think there is a real Chupacabra mystery? Yes, I do. I have heard so many accounts that genuinely intrigued me and made me conclude that, yes, there are strange creatures roaming around Puerto Rico. But, far less than there were in the late 1990s. Sightings have definitely fallen off in recent years, although I still get the occasional report. Soon, I'll be off to the island again, and its people, that I have such an affinity for.