The Chupacabra. Its name means “goat-sucker” and conjures up dreaded visions of a vampire-like creature preying on livestock across Latin America and Texas. It is feared for its destructive ability and even hunted by ranchers. However, the Chupacabra is not a legendary creature of old, in fact, it’s brand new. The Chupacabra was only officially “born” in 1995. However, modern day Chupacabra believers will tell stories of this animal as if it dates back much further. How was this modern-day cryptid created? Why are there two different versions of it? And what is it, really?
The story of the Chupacabra begins in Puerto Rico in 1995. An incident in 1995 where eight farm animals were killed and drained of blood would be retroactively ascribed to the Chupacabra. Months later, in the town of Canóvanas, a rash of animal killings where the animals were found bloodless were ascribed to an alien-like creature described by eyewitness Madelyne Tolentino. She described the creature as a short reptilian-like creature with spines on its back and tail. There’s just one problem, she was describing the alien from the movie Species which she had recently seen. And so, the Puerto Rican Chupacabra was born. The power of suggestion is strong, and once word got out of a strange, reptilian creature killing livestock in the night, it spread like wildfire. The Chupacabra started being blamed for all sorts of animal deaths all the way back to the 1970s, and people who probably saw little more than a shadow in the night started claiming to see the same thing as Madelyne Tolentino. There is no doubt that livestock killings were fairly common in Puerto Rico, but there are any number of wild animals that could have been responsible. Soon after the first incidents were reported in the news a Puerto Rican comedian coined the term “Chupacabra,” and the legend was born.
But it didn’t stop there. Like much Latin American culture, it spread to the American Southwest and Texas in particular. A 1997 episode of the wildly popular television show The X-Files probably brought the Chupacabra to the attention of American audiences. Once the Chupacabra made it to the United States it started being blamed for livestock deaths there. However, the reptilian description of the creature was lost and the American version of the Chupacabra is usually described as more dog-like and walking on four legs instead of two. Here’s where a twist comes to the story, farmers in Texas (as they do) started to actually shoot “Chupacabra.” There is even a taxidermy one that was killed by one Lynn Butler after she heard it killing her chickens. The animals that were killed undoubtedly looked strange; hairless and doglike with burnt looking skin. However, they are almost certainly dogs, coyotes, or hybrids with various cases of mange. Strange they may be, supernatural they are not. To the untrained eye however, they would absolutely look like some sort of monster, especially if they were found going after your farm animals.
So where does that leave the Chupacabra? Is there any chance there is actually an undiscovered creature killing livestock in Latin America? Likely not. But the Chupacabra is fascinating nonetheless as a study in how a legend is born. The combination of a scary situation and the memory of a movie monster is enough to play tricks with anyone’s mind. Something to keep in mind next time you’re in the woods alone, and think you hear a noise.