Puerto Rico is a place that is as enchanting as it is mysterious. Located in the northeast Caribbean, it is comprised of the main island itself, plus the islands of Mona, Monito, Vieques, Caja De Muertos, Culebra, and a number of other, smaller bodies. Today, Puerto Rico has a population of close to four million people, while its land mass is of roughly 3,500 square miles. It was in the mid-1990s that the phenomenon of the chupacabra exploded all across Puerto Rico. So far as can be determined, the menacing creature first surfaced in March 1995. That was when numerous animals were found slaughtered in the towns of Morovis (located in central Puerto Rico) and Orocovis, which is situated within the aforementioned 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. Since many of the early attacks were on goats, the term, “chupacabra,” was created. It means, in Spanish, goat-sucker.
Vampires were on the loose; monstrous vampires. Reports of strange killings soon began to surface from other parts of the island. The creatures were clearly on the move. The death-rate increased even more. The population was on edge and the media had something new and sensational to report on. It was a turbulent and strange time. But, what, exactly, was responsible for all the killings? Yes, there were plenty of dead animals but, unfortunately, there was no solid, eyewitness testimony relative to the killers themselves. That is, until August 1995, when a woman named Madelyne Tolentino - who lived in Canovanas, which is close to the northeast coast of Puerto Rico - changed everything. Tolentino’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.
Tolentino 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 predations, they also now knew what it looked like: something straight out of their worst nightmares. As the years progressed, so did the attacks. And what was, for a while, a mystery of purely Puerto Rican proportions, very soon became global. Within twelve months of the chupacabra surfacing in Puerto Rico it did likewise in Mexico. Then, as the 1990s came to a close, the focus was on Brazil: blood-drained farm animals were found strewn across Sorocaba, Sao Paulo. Just a few months later, Chile was hit hard by the beast, which reportedly killed not dozens, but hundreds of animals. Texas became a favorite haunt of the chupacabra in 2004. Even Russia got in on the act in the 2000s. The chupacabra was no longer just a mystery. It was a veritable planetary phenomenon.
But, what is the truth of the creatures? Are we really dealing with a deadly group of blood-sucking monsters, ones that have now spread across the world, killing and violating as they see fit? Could the answers be found in the domains of the occult, the paranormal, and the supernatural? Are the animals the results of top secret, genetic experiments? Is it possible that pollution and subsequent mutation play roles in the story? Is the phenomenon purely mythological? Might there actually be multiple explanations for what’s going down? They, and many more, are questions that I have pondered on deeply. I have also done my utmost to answer them. My first trek to Puerto Rico - in search of the Chupacabra - was in 2004. My good mate Jon Downes, of the Center for Fortean Zoology, was with me. And we had a film crew following us, as we began our quest. Our interviewee was a farmer named Jorge.
The story that Jorge told was as bizarre as it was uncanny. At some point during the early hours of a summer’s morning, he was suddenly woken up by the cries of his chickens, clearly scared out of their wits. Had Jorge checked on the chickens right there and then, the outcome would likely have been different. To his cost, however, Jorge did not. It was not until daybreak that he decided to see what had gone down just a few hours earlier. The scene before him both shocked and puzzled Jorge. Every single one of his chickens was dead. The killings did not look like the work of a wild animal, however. Indeed, the animals were not torn apart in the slightest, as one might well expect in a ferocious, wild dog attack. In fact, the only evidence of damage to the bodies was – wait for it, and take a deep, long breath – a pair of significantly sized holes in the necks of each and every chicken.
Oh, and lest I forget, all the birds were drained of blood, said Jorge. It was at this point that Jon began to make dark and disturbing murmurings about vampirism, black cloaks, fangs, and terrible creatures of the night. It all made for excellent footage for the SyFy Channel. But were the chickens actually drained of blood? Jorge’s line of thinking was that because there was a complete lack of blood at the scene, and a cursory study by him of several of the bodies revealed no blood around the wounds, he had assumed the blood was drained. One could, however, make a very good argument that the lack of blood was because it had sunk to the lower parts of the body; something which most assuredly does happen upon death. It’s all due to nothing stranger than good old gravity. I did not know it at the time, but this issue of blood draining, in relation to alleged chupacabra attacks, was one that would dog me for years to come.
The next stop on our quest for the truth was a ranch high in the Puerto Rican hills. The drive was an infinitely slow one: practically the last five miles were undertaken on a dirt-filled, track-like road that had nothing but a sheer, three to four hundred foot drop on its right side. A pale faced Jon repeatedly advised me to drive as carefully as I conceivably could. I did my best to do exactly that and to prevent us from tumbling to our deaths in the dense, jungle-like environment far below. We were due to meet yet another rancher whose bad luck it had been to encounter a chupacabra. Unlike the ranch of Jorge, this one was massive. A large stone house, one that was protected by a tall, cemented white wall, stood firm and proud. A rolling and flowing landscape, huge peaks, and thick woods were all the order of the day. It turned out that as well as having a huge herd of cattle and numerous goats and pigs, the rancher, Dominic, kept peacocks. And, back in 1998, something very strange happened to some of his brightly plumed birds: four of them were killed, during the early hours of a July morning, by a stealthy and deadly predator. The modus operandi was, by now, more than familiar to me and Jon: all four birds displayed evidence of vicious bites to the neck.
There was, however, something else too, something that neither of us had seen or heard of before: the skulls of the unfortunate birds had been penetrated by something small and triangular in shape. Dominic, who cared greatly about his peacocks – and who was clearly not short of more than a few dollars – quickly hired a veterinarian to examine the corpses. Two of them were subjected to necropsies, which confirmed the animals were lacking in significant amounts of blood. It looked as if our old friend, the chupacabra, had been up to its deadly tricks again. Angered at the deaths of his prized peacocks, Dominic elected to keep a very careful watch on his remaining birds. This involved staying up all night and ensuring that there were no repeat attacks. Thankfully, there weren’t. But, as Dominic told us, a deadly chupacabra did make a return visit; in fact, it made a handful of visits. We asked Dominic how he could be so sure, if there was no evidence of further attacks and killings. The answer was one that we were very pleased to hear: he had seen the monster for himself.
This was a major development. Here was a highly credible source, one who had the presence of mind to have his dead peacocks examined by a veterinarian, and who – while protecting his remaining birds throughout the course of the night – came face to face with the killer culprit. Dominic was asked to describe what he saw. The peacocks, said Dominic, were housed in a large, fenced enclosure, a fence that on the night of the killings had been violently ripped open on its north-facing side. Since the birds were more like pets than farm animals, and were treated as such by Dominic, he decided to take a chair and a flashlight, and spend a few nights in the enclosure, in the event that there was a repeat attack. It was a most wise decision.
On the very first night after the attacks, and well after midnight, the creature returned, via the same gaping hole in the fence. When Dominic heard the unmistakable sound of something forcing itself through the opening, he suddenly turned his flashlight on, and in the precise direction of the damaged fence. He was shocked to see a large creature, around four-feet in length and tan in color. Initially, said Dominic, the animal walked on all-fours, but, when hit by the bright beam, it reared up onto its hind legs. As it did so, the beast let out a menacing growl and a large row of spikes suddenly sprung erect down the length of its neck and back. Worse still, the white eyes of the animal suddenly turned to a glowing red. “Devilish” scarcely began to describe the fraught situation.
Frozen with fear in his chair, Dominic didn’t even make a move to pick up the rifle that sat next to him. The peacocks were screaming at the top of their lungs. Dominic was struck dumb. And, amid all of the chaos and terror, the chupacabra stood its ground, swaying menacingly, from side to side, as it hissed malevolently at the terrified rancher. Thankfully, however, the creature seemed not to want to tackle a fully grown man and it suddenly dropped to all-fours and charged out of the hole in the fence. While the creature never again bothered Dominic’s peacocks, he had no less than four or five more sightings of the animal. They all occurred around dusk, and over the next two or three weeks, near to his huge field of plantains. On each occasion, the creature beat a hasty retreat into the depths of the field. Dominic never thought to take even a single, solitary photo, which was frustrating for us, to say the least. After that: nothing at all. The killer vanished and was never seen again. That was not the end of things, however. In the following year, I made a trek across Puerto Rico - and again looking for the Chupacabra. And I've now made nine trips to the island, which is, by the way, a wonderful place. As are the people. The food, too. My quest still goes on. I know I'll continue until I have all the answers I'm looking for.