Recently, a couple in the backwoods town of Ratcliffe, Texas, claimed to have caught a real-life chupacabra, the legendary beast that is rumored to feast on the blood of livestock. They managed to trap the freakish creature, named it “Chupie” and kept it alive on a diet of cat food and corn.
Had the elusive chupacabra suddenly become a household pet? Does it even exist in the first place?
Benjamin Radford, who spent five years doing research for his 2011 book, “Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore,” told International Business Times it’s relatively easy to separate chupacabra fact from fiction when the evidence is measured against the principles of nature.
Science can, rather effortlessly, dismantle the chupacabra myth. But belief in the legendary “goat sucker," whether as a kind of buoyant superstition or a guileless conviction, persists. In the age of information, one might think that honest faith in such fantasies would have flatlined. As each year passes, there are fewer and fewer stones left unturned in this world. That’s not to say new discoveries, even of previously unknown species, never occur. However, in the absence of actual genetic evidence for something like the chupacabra – or Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and mermaids, for that matter – it’s difficult to imagine these fairy tales enduring.
Radford says people continue to believe for several reasons. First of all, it’s only human to believe in fantasy; we’ve been doing it for thousands and thousands of years. “There’s always been in the human mind this notion that beyond the safety of our homes and communities there are monsters,” Radford said. “People love the idea that our world is populated by unknown and mysterious creatures.”
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Tales of a deranged animal that attacks livestock first appeared in popular folklore in the 1970s following a string of unexplained deaths of farm animals and pets in Puerto Rico. The name “chupacabra,” Spanish for “goat sucker,” was coined later, in the mid-1990s, after a woman spotted what she described as a monstrous animal near her home just outside of San Juan. Over the next 15 years, the chupacabra has exploded on the mysterious sightings circuit, especially in the U.S. Southwest.
“A lot of people don’t know the real history of the chupacabra,” Radford told IBTimes. “The original chupacabra was this spiky-backed, alien-type creature with glowing eyes.”
A few years ago, a nutritionist from Cuero, Texas, had vets at the University of California, Davis, perform several DNA tests on a preserved “chupacabra” of her own. The results, the Huffington Post reports, suggested the animal was part coyote and part Mexican wolf. No chupacabra genome in sight.
"The lack of verification in no way diminishes the appeal that urban legends have for us," American folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand writes in "The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings.” "We enjoy them merely as stories, and tend to at least half-believe them as possibly accurate reports."
“True vampires” – animals such as leeches, lampreys and vampire bats – have certain anatomical characteristics that make it possible for them to feed off of other animals’ blood. Vampire bats, for instance, have self-sharpening teeth and flat mouths that allow them to cut through skin more easily. The saliva of lampreys and leaches contains anticoagulants to keep their victims’ blood from clotting.
“Like several other ‘chupacabras’ found in Texas and elsewhere in recent years, a simple look at the mouth demonstrates that it is physically impossible for the animals to suck blood,” Radford wrote for LiveScience. “The mouth and jaw structures of raccoons, dogs and coyotes prevent them from creating a seal around their victims, and, therefore, physically prevents them from sucking the blood out of goats or anything else.”
Another snag in the chupacabra theory is that true vampires have to deal with iron toxicity. Blood contains iron, an essential component of cellular energy production. Too much iron, however, can be poisonous. This is one of the reasons humans can’t drink blood. In high doses, iron can actually kill. Animals that have evolved to suck blood have anatomical properties that allow them to manage increases in iron intake. These are physical mechanisms that are not present in dogs, coyotes and raccoons.
“Whatever animal that has been tentatively identified as a chupacabra, if you really think it is, there are ways to test this,” Radford said. “Take a sample of its saliva. See if it has anticoagulant properties. If it doesn’t, then it cannot, by definition, be the dreaded vampiric goat sucker.”
Perhaps even more telling in regards to why some people continue to believe in fairy tales is what Radford called a “strong anti-science sentiment.” There are those who remain skeptical of men and women in white lab coats. What do those egghead scientists know anyways, right? According to Radford, people are always looking for ways to prove science wrong.
And then there are those looking for a good conspiracy to sink their teeth into. Several theories about the origin of the chupacabra exist, including that the creature is the result of a botched NASA experiment. Another suspicion says the chupacabra is the source of the AIDS virus.
Conspiracy theorists don’t consider themselves crackpots, but rather “independent thinkers.” Psychologists have shown that people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to have a mistrust of authority in general. It’s a lens through which they view the world; behind every corner lurks a mad scientist poisoning our water supplies, cooking up tornadoes and hurricanes and setting crazed science experiments lose into the wild. And studies suggest that if you believe in one conspiracy theory, you’re more likely to believe in several others.
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During his research, Radford tracked down the original chupacabra witness, the woman in Puerto Rico who “essentially spawned the idea of the chupacabra.”
“Turns out, she had recently seen the science-fiction film ‘Species,’” Radford said. “A short time later, she said she saw the thing outside her home.”
The 1995 science fiction horror film, directed by Roger Donaldson, is about a group of scientists who track down and trap an alien-like creature with glowing eyes and covered in spikes.
“It wasn’t until the movie ’Species’ came out that it gave [the chupacabra] a name … and more importantly the movie gave it a form,” Radford said. “It’s not unfair to say that Hollywood created the chupacabra in a very real way.”
So there you have it, folks. Hollywood probably created the chupacabra, one of the most pervasive legends of our time. But pulling back the curtain to see behind the illusion isn’t nearly as fun as keeping the curtain closed.
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Video of the recent Texas “chupacabra” fidgeting in its cage and periodically releasing a low growl quickly surfaced in the news. While skeptics were quick to label it a fraud, saying the animal must have been a canine or raccoon suffering from a skin disease called mange, its captors remained unswayed.
“I hunted coons for 20 years with dogs and I ain’t ever seen anything that looks like that right there,” Arlen Parma, who discovered the chupacabra-like animal near his home in Ratcliffe, told Newscenter 25. “A coon doesn’t make that noise, or a possum. What makes that noise? I guess a chupacabra does.”
Later, Parma and his wife Jackie Stock euthanized the animal after officials from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department convinced them it was indeed a raccoon with mange.
“So, is this animal the elusive chupacabra?” Radford proposed. “It's clear that it's not.”
No necropsy of the dead animal was performed (an incredulous wildlife official told TMZ that there was no point testing the animal for chupacabra DNA because the department’s formal position on chupacabras is that they don’t exist), and the couple plans to have the creature stuffed by a taxidermist – a macabre memento of their encounter with what they said was a genuine chupacabra.
“To many, it doesn’t matter what the truth is,” Radford told IBTimes. “It’s a fun, viral news story.”