Just about everyone has heard of Puerto Rico's most famous (or, rather, infamous) monster, the Chupacabra. It's a fact, though, that there are other mysterious creatures on the island, too. Let's have a look at giant birds. Pucho is someone who I interviewed on Puerto Rico back in 2005 with Canada's Redstar Films. Not too long earlier, he'd seen a very strange creature, but it definitely wasn't a Chupacabra. He was walking past a local place of worship when he heard a very strange noise: it was a loud, almost bellowing, roar. It filled the air and brought Pucho to a sudden halt. He looked around for a few moments and then, to his horror, saw what was responsible. Perched in a large nearby tree was a huge, bird-like creature, but one which was easily the size of a fully-grown man; possibly even bigger. It was covered in feathers and once again bellowed in fear-inducing fashion. What happened next amazed Pucho. He said that the creature didn’t fly away in the fashion that one would expect from a bird. Incredibly, it simply opened its wings and – instead of flapping them furiously – rose up into the skies above with what seemed to be barely an effort. In seconds it was gone. It was a fascinating day. A mysterious one, too. Now, onto another one of Puerto Rico's monsters that is definitely not a Chupacabra.
In September 1959, a groundbreaking paper – Searching for Interstellar Communications, written by Cornell University physicists, Phillip Morrison and Giuseppe Conconi – was published in the pages of Nature. The paper was focused upon the idea of searching for extraterrestrial life via the medium of microwaves. Approximately eight months later, one Frank Drake decided to test the theories and ideas of Morrison and Conconi for himself. Drake did so at the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory, located in West Virginia. Despite lasting for 150 hours, the search of the heavens for evidence of messages from alien intelligences was not successful. Drake, however, was not to be dissuaded or defeated quite so easily as that. In October 1961, the very first conference on what became known as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) was convened at Green Bank. It was here that Drake unleashed his now famous and much championed Drake Equation upon the world, and which is an admittedly controversial method for attempting to ascertain the scale of intelligent civilizations that may exist in the known universe. Since then, SETI has been at the forefront of research into the search for alien life.
When Frank Drake elected to make it his life’s work to search for alien intelligences, he went down a road that eventually led him to the Arecibo Radio Telescope, which is located on the island of Puerto Rico, and where he, Drake, eventually rose to the position of Director. As Drake noted in his 1994 book, Is Anyone Out There?, it was at some point early in his tenure as Director – in the mid-1960s – that a guard at the observatory claimed to have seen a sinister-looking man dressed in a black cloak “walking the narrow trail around the perimeter of the bowl.” The guard was of the opinion that the dark figure was nothing less than a blood-draining – and blood-drinking – vampire. Despite his skepticism, Drake politely accepted the guard’s report and agreed to at least take a look at it. Forty eight hours later, said Drake, “I really was forced to look into it…because a cow was found dead on a nearby farm, with all the blood drained from its body. The vampire rumor spread had already spread through the observatory staff, and now the cow incident whipped the fears of many people into a frenzy.”
Now, onto nothing less than a vampire. At least, by name. It was known as the Moca Vampire – its name taken from the municipality of Moca, which can be found in the northwest of the island, and which is home to around 40,000 people. Unlike the Chupacabra – sightings of which continue to this very day – the “Vampiro de Moca,” as it was referred to on Puerto Rico - was a monster of a definitively “here one minute and gone the next” kind. The controversy all began in late February 1975. That was when the population of Moca was plunged into a collective state of fear. And it was hardly surprising. Numerous ranchers reported how their farm animals were being violently slaughtered under cover of darkness and systematically drained of massive amounts of blood. The first area targeted was the Barrio Rocha region, where several goats, at least four pigs, numerous chickens, and more than a dozen cows, were all found dead, with puncture marks on their bodies, and deep claw-like wounds on their skin, and all missing one vital ingredient: blood. Villagers and farmers were as outraged as they were terrified. Local authorities, and chiefly the police, tried to diffuse the controversy by attributing the attacks to nothing stranger than the work of packs of wild dogs – a theory that, almost inevitably, was received with nothing but scorn, skepticism, and disdain.
By the end of the first week in March 1975, the death count was close to three dozen. It was in this same week that an important development was made: the blood-sucking culprit was finally seen, up close and personal, so to speak. The witness was a woman named Maria Acevedo, who caught sight a monstrously-sized, screaming and screeching winged beast that landed atop her home, and which clambered about her zinc roof, making an almighty racket in the process. And it was clearly no normal bird: around four to five feet in height, it was described as being similar in appearance to a pterodactyl, a presumed-extinct, flying reptile of the Jurassic era. Whatever the true nature of the monster, it quickly took to the skies and vanished into the starry darkness. Less than forty-eight hours later, a farmer named Cecilio Hernandez contacted the police after more than thirty of his chickens were killed in a fashion that was quickly becoming attributed to the predations of the Moca Vampire. It was at the same time that Hernandez’ story was widely being reported on Puerto Rico that a potential answer to the puzzle was uncovered: two huge snakes were killed in Moca, just before they were about to attack a cow belonging to a rancher named Luis Torres. Of course, this didn’t explain the winged monster that Maria Acevedo reported only days earlier. And, it didn’t resolve the many and varied additional killings that continued to plague the people of Moca. In addition, while snakes will typically take down and devour – whole, no less - significantly-sized animals, they will not, and cannot, suck blood in either small or large proportions. In other words, while the snake theory might have been a small component of the saga, it most certainly didn’t explain everything.
On March 18, 1975, the monster struck again. On this occasion, the victims were a pair of goats owned by Hector Vega, of Moca’s Barrio Pueblo. Once again, the culprit had struck in its typical fashion of draining the goats of their blood – and, in this case, of all the blood. The creature was not done with Vega, however. On the following night no less than seventeen animals were attacked, of which ten were killed, due to deep, penetrating wounds, trauma, and massive blood loss. Five days later, a pig was found dead by farmer Felix Badillo. Blood was removed in significant amounts, and there was a hole in the head of the animal, which gave every appearance of something powerful being violently thrust into the skull. On top of that, one of the pig’s ears was missing – in a fashion that, rather intriguingly, was attributed to a surgical procedure. No wonder the people of Moca were as puzzled as they were alarmed. Forty-eight hours later came the most astonishing development: Juan Muniz was attacked by a huge, bird-like animal that swopped down upon him from above, as he walked through Barrio Pulido. He struggled and fought as the winged nightmare did its very best to force Muniz to the ground. In his panicked, adrenalized state, Muniz managed to escape and alert the authorities.
Then, as April began, the Moca Vampire began to expand its hunting ground: attacks began to be reported all across the island, with farm animals again drained of blood, of rumors of attacks on people, and even of a police cover-up of the facts to prevent a public panic exploding. The attacks continued into May – and then into June, too. By this time, hundreds of animals were said to have fallen victim to the blood-drinking monster, and with barely an answer to the problem in sight. As it transpired, however, matters came to a sudden, inexplicable halt. Shortly before the end of June, the sightings, encounters and attacks were no more. Whatever the true nature of the Moca Vampire, it vanished as quickly as it originally surfaced. Such was the terror is provoked, however, the creature is still discussed, in hushed tones, in Moca to this very day. Now, onto the Bigfoot of Puerto Rico.
One of the people I interviewed on my latest trek to the island was a ghost-hunter and paranormal investigator named Peter - who was originally from Berlin, Germany, but who moved to Puerto Rico to live in 1996. Peter was someone whose accounts of Bigfoot activity on Puerto Rico were as fascinating as they were controversial. By that, I mean the reports had far less to do with what one might call unknown animals, and far more to do with what might justifiably be termed downright paranormal anomalies. It's important, at the very outset, that I stress Peter was not someone whose files on Bigfoot in Puerto Rico were overflowing. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The number of reports in his archives was less than twenty and which spanned from the 1970s to 1998, and with a spate of reports in 1985. Typically, the beasts closely resembled the North American Bigfoot. That's to say there were large, humanoid, covered in dark hair, and solitary. While most of the reports emanated from - or around - the island's huge El Yunque rain-forest, two were - rather incredibly - reported from the fringes of Puerto Rico's capital city, San Juan. As all of this demonstrates, Puerto Rico really is an island of monsters. Even without the Chupacabras.