Chupacabra, or Déjà Chu?

September 20, 2013

Another (yawn) chupacabra has been reported, this time by a good ol’ boy in rural Leake County, Mississippi.

While coon hunting at his home, Matt Harrell encountered and shot what he believes is the fabled creature whose Spanish name means “goatsucker.” Spawned in 1995 from earlier Puerto Rican folklore (i.e., of the Vampire of Moca), the chupacabra was blamed for attacks on farmyards in Mexico and elsewhere, eventually including Florida and other southern states—an idea spread initially by the Spanish-speaking media. Reported mutilations of farm animals sparked near hysteria along with conspiracy theories involving UFOs.

Monitoring reports and developments, I contacted CSI colleagues in Mexico City, Patricia and Mario Mendez-Acosta. They interviewed several veterinary pathologists who had examined alleged goatsucker victims. The animals had not been drained of blood as supposed; instead, gravity had simply caused the blood to drain downward in the animals’ bodies. Stakeouts of Mexican farmyards resulted in wild dogs invariably being caught.

In Argentina where I was investigating in 2005, journalist Gabriel Alcalde shared his knowledge. A study of nearly a hundred cases of animal mutilation revealed that the deaths were attributable to natural causes and the mutilations to predators, including foxes, birds, and rodents—as shown by forensic evidence. (See my Tracking the Man-Beasts, 2011.)

In 2011, I visited a Missouri farm where a “chupacabra” had been shot, and examined the carcass. (See my blog of Nov. 29, 2011.) Like most chupacabras—which turn out not to be from the supernatural realm but from the natural world’s family Canidae (dogs, wolves, foxes, and coyotes)—the Missouri critter proved to be a coyote whose hairless condition resulted from sarcoptic mange. (This is a disease in which burrowing skin mites cause hair loss and thus give the unfortunate creature a weird appearance.) Many “chupacabras” in both northern Mexico and the southern United States have proved to be canids with mange.

As to the most recent case, in Mississippi, the creature Harrell shot (twice, for good measure), had at first seemed to him a raccoon, which it does not resemble, or a coyote, which it indeed looks like—quite similar to the one I examined in Missouri. In fact, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has identified Harrell’s chupacabra” as, once again, a mangy coyote. (See http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20130912/NEWS/130912024/Mississippi-hunter-says-he-killed-chupacabra; accessed Sept. 16, 2013.)

It’s déjà chu, all over again.

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