November 29, 2011
The Chupacabra is a fabled vampiric creature that has supposedly preyed on farm animals in many countries since it first appeared in Puerto Rico in 1995. Is it on the loose now in the American midwest? In November I was able to examine the carcass of one such reputed creature on a Missouri farm.
The strange looking animal (see photos) showed up on the property of Tim Stoll near Strafford. The family had suffered the loss of one chicken a day until their entire flock was gone. Then, on November 5, Stoll's teenage stepson, Dalton Pennington, encountered the creature. It had spooked their horses and was heading for the goat pen, when Dalton killed it with a single shot from a deer rifle. He was impressed with its strange appearance and distinctive yellow eyes.
Stoll asked, "Mangy coyote? A diseased animal or something?" His son Charley searched the Internet and found that their strange animal resembled others popularly identified as the Chupacabra, whose name means "goatsucker." Trouble is, most so-called chupacabras turn out to be rather ordinary critters—commonly one of the family canidae (dogs, wolves, foxes, and the coyote)—suffering from sarcoptic mange, a disease whereby burrowing skin mites cause hair loss and a resulting weird appearance. (See Joe Nickell, Tracking the Man-Beasts, Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2011, 141-56.)
Being in Missouri at the time (lecturing at Skepticon IV in Springfield), I was able to investigate the case firsthand. I contacted Francis Skalicky, a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He told me that two state biologists had—independently—identified the Strafford creature from photos as a coyote with mange.
I also went on site at the Stoll farm where I was very hospitably received. Young Dalton even recognized me from one of my several appearances on the History Channel's popular TV series Monster Quest. On orders from conservation officials, they were about to dispose of the animal by burning, so I arrived, with Missouri skeptic Larry Jewell who videotaped our visit, just in time to inspect the very rank-smelling carcass.
The creature is indeed weird looking. However, its size, lithe body, doglike paws, and triangular ears are indicative of the canids, and the sharp snout, specific coloring (orangish-gray upper, buff underparts, rusty legs with vertical dark line on lower foreleg), and other features, including the dentition and yellow eyes, are consistent with the coyote. By no means hairless, the animal nevertheless clearly suffered from mange (a condition I was familiar with as a boy growing up in eastern Kentucky). (See, for example, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, 682-86.)
In marked contrast, the chupacabra is said to be "hairy, about four feet tall, with a large, round head, a lipless mouth, sharp fangs, and huge, lidless red eyes." Moreover, it reportedly has "thin, clawed, seemingly webbed arms with muscular hind legs" and "a series of pointy spikes running from the top of its head down its backbone." (See Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark, Cryptozoology A to Z, New York: Fireside, 1999, 61-63.) However, since no specimen has ever been authenticated scientifically, the Strafford creature is as real, apparently, as the Chupacabra gets.