March 22, 2011 --
Chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast that supposedly terrorized victims both north and south of the border, turns out to have originated with one woman’s viewing of the 1995 science-fiction thriller Species, according to a new book authored by a leading scientific paranormal investigator. In Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore (University of New Mexico Press), Benjamin Radford concludes that the entire myth traces back to an August 1995 "chupacabra sighting" by moviegoer Madelyne Tolentino in Canovanas, Puerto Rico.
Tolentino described a four- to five-foot-tall beast with alien-like eyes, long claws, spikes down its back and more -- a dead ringer for "Sil," the monster star of the horror film Species (pictured here), Radford told Discovery News. "She gave an incredibly detailed description that included everything from the monster’s number of fingers to its genitalia," he said. "A sketch based on this went on the Internet, where the story went viral."
Radford, who has a degree in psychology, spent years investigating the chupacabra, even traveling to Puerto Rico and the jungles of Nicaragua in search of information about the creature. After the lengthy investigations, he doesn’t think Tolentino intentionally made up the sighting. "There’s a phenomenon known as confabulation, where people confuse things seen in dreams or movies as happening in real life," he explained. "It's a natural, normal thing, and there was a fertile social ground for her story." He said that vampire tales tend to emerge out of periods of tremendous political and economic uncertainty and tension. Different versions of the vampire story have been spun all around the world. "In early 1990s Puerto Rico, there was a preexisting belief that something weird was attacking animals and draining them of their blood," he said. In this photo, Radford consults with a tracker in the jungles of Nicaragua, searching for a population of chupacabras.
In March of 1996, Tolentino's account was shared on The Cristina Show, which Radford describes as "the Spanish language version of Oprah." In the years since, chupacabra sightings have been reported in several Texas cities, Nicaragua, and other places. An alleged chupacabra track taken from a sighting in Florida, widely considered to be a hoax, appears here.
As time passed, the word "chupacabra," which means "goat sucker" in Spanish, was tied to any unusual looking animal, usually lacking hair and flashing big teeth. DNA studies on some of these animals reveal they were primarily dogs and coyotes suffering from the skin disease sarcoptic mange. "The disease causes their skin to tighten up and makes their teeth look more fearsome," Radford said. As for the supposedly blood-sucked victims -- usually chickens, goats and livestock -- he explained that dogs and coyotes often attack multiple animals in a group by biting them on the neck. Not all of these animals die outright and are consumed. Some die of internal bleeding and suffocation, with their dead bodies "giving the illusion of vampirism."
Jan Harold Brunvand, professor emeritus of folklore at the University of Utah, believes the chupacabra as any kind of credible animal has finally bitten the dust. "Radford drives a metaphorical stake into the heart of the beast. ... His conclusions -- clearly and even humorously reported -- provide the definitive word on this 21st century beast," Brunvand said. Todd Disotell, a professor of anthropology at New York University, sequenced DNA of three purported chupacabras. Disotell also agrees with Radford’s findings, saying he is "impressed at the depth" to which the author delved into the backstory behind the beast. Kenneth Feder, a professor of archaeology at Central Connecticut University, provided these last words on the subject: "As a result of Radford’s riveting work on the chupacabra, the sad critter is now relegated to wandering the halls of cryptozoological fantasy worlds, occasionally encountering Nessie, Champ, Bigfoot and other mythical beasts that go bump in the imaginary night."
Benjamin Radford contributes to Discovery News.