Most cryptids end up with cool names that end in ‘monster’ or ‘horror’, or begin with ‘beast’ or ‘creature’. The chupacabras sounds cool because it seems exotic to my ears, which are both incredibly English and whiter than Vanilla Ice flailing in a tub of bleach. The literal translation, however, makes them sound like creepy little fetishists that you wouldn’t trust anywhere near a petting zoo.
‘Goat sucker’ sightings are – in the world of cryptozoology at least – a comparatively modern phenomenon, having begun in earnest in 1995. Since then they’ve snowballed to the point that the vampiric chupacabras has been catapulted right up into public consciousness and now probably only trails behind the Big Three (Nessie, Bigfoot and the Yeti/Abominable Snowman) in terms of cryptids that Joe Public would be able to name without straining his brain-muscle. They also win the prize for being Latin America’s weirdest-looking export since Danny Trejo.
The chupacabras first made itself known near the small Puerto Rican towns of Morovis and Orocovis in March 1995. For months the bodies of goats, chickens and other small livestock were found, apparently drained of blood. The suspected culprit wasn’t spotted until September that year, when Madelyne Tolentino looked out of the front window of her house when she heard a car pull up. She immediately saw what had spooked the driver – an odd bipedal little monstrosity with clawed hands, spines down its back and enormous, lidless red eyes, waddling in an odd and robotic way. Tolentino promptly screamed the house down, and her wailing brought her mother running.
The creature hopped off toward the woods in response to all the commotion. The chupacabras was also spotted that night by two church bus drivers, a boy who claimed to have actually grabbed hold of it briefly and another, infinitely less macho boy who simply shat his pants and hurled bottles at it. Soon the sketch drawn up by investigator Jorge Martin was all over the local media, and true ‘Chupamania’ had begun:
Reports of further sightings and more slaughtered livestock poured in over the following months. One woman apparently chased four of the creatures out from under her porch with a broom. One local Puerto Rican tabloid even ran with the story that giant vampire bats that had stowed away in African cargo crates were responsible for the animal deaths. In March 1996, the Spanish-language talk show Christina aired a report on the creatures in the States. This was basically the Latin equivalent of Oprah lending the story a little credibility, and a big chunk of the American population promptly shat their minds into their sombreros as a result. Sightings spread into America and began to take place through Miami, Texas and even further north. The chupacabras was also fully embraced by the internet, and the resulting hysteria meant the spiny little bastard rocketed its way into popular culture.
Since the original sighting, the name chupacabras seems to have taken on a life of its own. The cryptid is now often reported as more doglike and seen running on all fours, rather than waddling down the street like a pissed dwarf in a hedgehog suit. The net is awash with pictures and even video, like this one taken by a South Texas policeman from his patrol car:
These sort of sightings are a far cry from Tolentino’s very specific description of the original beast, and many have been explained away as coyotes with severe mange. Other hoaxes have included crude taxidermy jobs and faked photographs. The ‘true’ chupacabras seems unlikely to exist because it’s just so damned freaky and alien-like, but even the weirder aspects of its physiology aren’t unknown in nature:
Meet the potto, an African primate that might not drink blood, but does have mean little teeth and loves to shred smaller animals to bits with them. It may not have the bulging eyes or the gargoyle-face of the chupacabras, but it does possess one of its most seemingly alien characteristics. The potto‘s upper vertebrae end in long spines that raise its fur and nearly break the skin; when threatened, they ball up so that predators can’t bite them on the neck without getting jabbed in the mouth.
Admittedly, this only proves that one of the chupacabras’ weirder aspects has a real-life counterpart. The vampirism is also pretty hard to explain, especially for a weird and shuffling little fucker that seems like it couldn’t sneak up on Helen Keller. Nevertheless, the chupacabras is a genuine global phenomenon, and a great example of how new cryptids can still come to light and capture the public’s imagination.