For decades the legend of the chupacabra has terrorized the Americas, from Chile to Maine, but where did the legend actually begin?
Few legends’ validities have been as vehemently insisted upon as that of the Chupacabra, famed enemy of livestock all across the Americas. Particularly goats, for whom its bloodlust gave it its name.
A blood-sucking creature usually the size of a small bear, sometimes with a tail, always covered in scaly skin, and a row of spines down its back, the Chupacabra has been a staple in Puerto Rican folklore for decades, since the first goat was found drained of its blood. While the explanation for the goat’s death could have been anything, there were those who wondered if the Chupacabra had, at last, crawled out of the pages of folklore, and onto their island.
Silverio Perez was the first man to call the creature a chupacabra, which literally translates to “goat-sucker.” After over 150 farm animals had been killed on farms across Puerto Rico, their bodies intact but entirely drained of blood, and goats seemed to be the creatures preference.
As soon as the word of the Puerto Rican farm animals broke, farmers in other countries began complaining of their own attacks. Animals from Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and the United States were all dying the same gruesome deaths, seemingly with no explanation.
Before long, word of the creature reached Benjamin Radford, an American writer, and skeptic of chupacabra tall tales. Over the next five years, Radford would make it his life’s work to either track down a living specimen or debunk the legend of the chupacabra once and for all.
His years-long journey took him through forests and farmland across South America and the southwestern United States until he finally found what he was looking for – someone who had actually seen a chupacabra up close and personal.
Her name was Madelyne Tolentino, and she’d seen the chupacabra through a window. Her description is responsible for the description that remains the most common. A bipedal creature with black eyes, reptilian skin and spines down its back, she claimed, was responsible for the animal attacks that were becoming so commonplace in the country.
Other people that Radford tracked down who claimed to have seen the chupacabra themselves corroborated her description, though some insisted it walked on four legs instead of two, and the presence of a tail was never firmly agreed upon.
Soon, another version of the chupacabra, either a distant relative or an evolution, began to emerge, one that was much easier to believe. In place of the reptilian scales covering its body, this new chupacabra had smooth, hairless skin. It walked on four legs and definitely had a tail. It almost looked like a dog.
Radford’s findings five years after he began his research were, for all intents and purposes, inconclusive. He believed that Tolentino’s original description was heavily influenced by science fiction movies and that other accounts were influenced by her account. The bodies of the dead animals were never necropsied, therefore Radford could not conclude that the definitive cause of death was exsanguination.
He further deduced that the reports in North America were vastly different than those in South America. In the U.S., the reported chupacabras were likely coyotes or wolves with mange or hairless dogs. The explanation for the chupacabras favor of goat blood over others was that goats are docile and easily hunted, and therefore made easy targets.
Though Radford explained away North American chupacabras, the issue of the original Puerto Rican monster lingered. Locals claimed that there was no other explanation and that the killings were the result of a legend come to life. Scientists believed they were also coyotes with mange, though none had been caught in the area.
Over time, the legend began to take on a new spin, as a campy piece of folklore rather than a viable threat. Livestock doesn’t seem to vanish mysteriously as much and if they do, their disappearances are much quicker blamed on coyotes than they are on the chupacabra.
But, locals say, every now and then, a goat will go missing, and the town will be buzzing with those who claim to have seen the legendary chupacabra stalking its prey once again.