The cool night air was alive with the sound of crickets. The terrified bleat of a sheep cut through the stillness, then was abruptly silenced, replaced with a grunting, sucking sound. The sheep, dead and bloodless, lay in the pasture while a bear-sized beast scuttled away through the tall grass. It stood upright on muscular hind legs and scanned its huge red eyes over the field. The spiny hairless creature loped off into the night, leaving nothing behind but a foul stench and a trail of dead livestock.
Spreading Like Wildfire
In the mid-1990s, a monster ravaged the pastures of Puerto Rico. Goats, sheep, chickens, and cows were found dead in their pastures, completely drained of blood. No footprints or animal evidence could be found in the vicinity. By the end of the decade, over a thousand animals had been killed in this grotesque manner. Although many witnesses claimed to have seen the perpetrator, few people believed a “goat sucker” stalked the countryside.
The most first and famous witness, Madelyne Totlentino, kicked off the search for the chupacabra after seeing the monster through her window one night in 1995. She saw a scaly reptilian beast that stood on its kangaroo-like hind legs. Tall spines protruded from its hunched back and its bulbous red eyes glinted in the dark. It had long thin arms and fangs to bite and drain animals of every drop of blood.
After her testimony, many more witnesses came forward. A rash of exsanguinated livestock swept across Puerto Rico before spreading to the rest of Latin America. With so many witnesses of the legendary animal, regional variations of the chupacabra’s appearance have blurred the collective image of the beast. In Puerto Rico, most reports describe a reptilian alien-like creature, while more recent reports in Mexico and Central America lean towards something almost canine.
Following reports of a dog-like chupacabra in Mexico, the bodies of mangy coyotes and hairless dogs were turned in as evidence. These ugly dogs were quickly dismissed as evidence of a hoax and the concept of the chupacabra was downgraded from dangerous monster to figment of the imagination. Still, livestock throughout the region were found dead and bloodless without any clear cause.
A Deeper History
The so-named chupacabra is a creation of modern folklore with a deeper background. The name was coined in recent memory, but the animal and its behavior go back much, much further.
Like most cultures, Ancient Mayans believed in a vampiric entity. Camazotz was a blood-drinking deity fashioned after the image of a leaf-nosed bat. Vampire bats - a sharp-toothed species of leaf-nosed bat - do indeed live in the Yucatan Peninsula and commonly feed on the blood livestock. Knowing this, the image of a vampire was well-established in the region long before any reports of today’s “goat sucker.”
There is a reported encounter between a chupacabra and the 16th century Conquistador, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. When he discovered the chupacabra’s characteristic killing of his cattle, locals described it as the work of the beast that we now recognize as a chupacabra. This story is hard to verify, given the encounter is nearly 500 years old and over time, implausible details were added here and there for color.
In 1975, The Vampire of Moca was blamed for more livestock killings. Dozens of barnyard animals were discovered with puncture wounds in their necks and no blood in their bodies. The term “chupacabra” was not yet in common parlance, but again, a livestock-eating vampiric creature was prowling the pastures of Puerto Rico.
Tolentino’s famous report in 1995 kickstarted today’s widespread hunt for the chupacabra. Hundreds of reports from as far south as Chile to as far north as the Carolinas have been documented. A dog-like chupacabra was caught on camera in Houston, Texas as recently as 2019.
Skeptics are all too eager to provide explanations for the chupacabra. Most suggest that the sightings can be attributed to a coyote or wild dog with mange, which often display behaviors unusual for their species. Others suggest it’s a case of mass hysteria after the release of a spooky movie. Still others hypothesize that these are sightings of a strange hybrid. None of this explains the epidemic of exsanguinated sheep and livestock.
It’s a well-known phenomenon that large predators will hunt nearby livestock after their territory has been destroyed. Replacing large swaths of wild lands with grazing pastures limits the hunting territory such creatures require. Countless livestock killings are attributed to cougars and bears for this very reason. Given the recent steep uptick in chupacabra sightings, is it possible that humans have encroached onto their native habitat and limited their hunting options?
Though the existence of the elusive chupacabra remains unproven, hard evidence exists that these animals have been killed in an unusual manner and drained of their blood. The problem lies not with false witness accounts, but with interpretation. Over time, the image of the chupacabra has been muddled and blurred, pushing the legend ever deeper into obscurity.