In the beginning of things men were animals and animals men. ~ Algonquin saying

"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons." ~ The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chupacabra: (Un)Solved Mysteries and Imagery

About fifteen years ago, I was working on my final folklore project in graduate school, focusing on cataloging the ways animals appear in paranormal, UFO, and Fortean narratives. Sometimes animals appeared as mundane entities as “witnesses”, other times, the animals were themselves supernatural or “others.” Here’s a small bit about the Chupacabra from the paper, tentatively titled My Alien Lizard Lover: Animal Motifs in UFO and Fortean Narratives:
The Chupacabra (goat sucker) is the creature of legend unto itself. Described as three to four feet tall, with large, “wrap around eyes (not unlike the eyes of the gray aliens) with a spiny ridge on its back, the Chupacabras has been a part of lore in the Latino community for a few years, originating from Puerto Rico, which has folkloric traditions of vampire type creatures who attack animal and humans alike. Chupacabra punctures its victims; rabbits, goats, chickens, and other small creatures, in the neck, draining the victim of all blood. Recently the stories have included attacks on humans. In the past two or three years, stories of Chupacabras have made their into Latino ethnic beliefs in the United States, as well as crossing over into non-Latino (Anglo, etc.) groups. Cooper’s Dictionary of Symbolic and Mythologic Animals gives this definition this definition of the goat sucker birds:
An evil and ill omened nocturnal, and therefore allied to the powers of darkness: said to drain milk from cows and goats.. Goatsuckers can embody the souls of people unable to account for crimes committed while in human form; their cries are said to be the wailing of the ghost expiating the sins.” (Cooper; 1992: 114) Cooper does not give any cultural reference for this however. But the parallels to the term Chupacabras and the concept of a creature draining an animal of fluid, as well as its avenging nature, are obvious.

Many personal experience narratives combine the presence of Chupacabras with UFOs and extraterrestrials. “A lot of Mexicans believe in extra extraterrestrials, so that’s what they think they are” (Arizona Daily Star, Sunday, May 11, 1996) “Others think the Goat Sucker may have come from outer space of is the mutant progeny of some mad gene-splicing scheme.” (Dudley Althaus, Register-Guard, May 14, 1996)

Tensions within the narratives of Chupacabra include the fear expressed by telling these stories, and the satiric songs and cartoons that have become an industry.

Elizabeth Casals, in her article “Chupacabra Weekend” (UFO Magazine) writes of her search for personal narratives in Mexico about the Chupacabras. No one would admit that they believed such lore, but Casals did find “souvenir stalls, their shelves pile high with plaster piggy bans and cowhide wallets. And racks of T-shirts. Several styles of Chupacabras shirts caught my eye: particularly the one that read “Beware - the Chupacabra will get you.” (Casals, 1996:30) Obviously tourism is good for the Chupacabras business, whether or not the lore is believed by locals. She did find a woodcarver who had carved an image of the Chupacabra.

People within this tradtion are usually reluctant to talk about the Chupacabras and are afraid of being ridiculed. A superstitious belief that they will invite the Chupacabras into their lives by discussing the creature may be the motivation for keeping silent on the Chupacabras, particularly towards outsiders. Yet, as happens so often in folklore, there are contradictions. Humor, satric songs, and cartoonish images often the fear an and unease about the unknown. The Chupacabra is an unknown, and is believed to be causing damage to people's pets as well as humans. By creating a story that this Chupacabra is, indeed a creature, and, that the creature is a “pet” of the aliens, some order has been made out of the chaos of harmful, unexplained events. The Chupacabra has been given a place and a definition.
The paper is over sixteen years old, and of course, I was writing within the context of approved-by-academia and the confines of my subject area, folklore. (I also notice in looking this over that a lot is lacking as to citations, style, and so on. ) Which, as I commented on the C-Influcence blog, required a particular mind-set regarding one’s philosophical treatment of paranormal-UFO events:

I loved the academic realm of folklore as a discipline, but, had a few major problems with it at the same time. I am not an academic, and , when in college, decided to not follow that path. I’m simply not wired that way; can’t deal with authorities, politics, 9 to 5 job milieu. . . but that aside, I found a huge problem in folklore studies -- as an academic pursuit - that seemed ironically contradictory. On the one hand, collecting stories while remaining nonjudgmental was encouraged. At the same time, it seemed to me folklore couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Professors wanted conclusions, they wanted a psychological analysis. Well, I’d say, I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a psychology student, I’m not even taking any psychology classes. While I could give a sort of every-woman’s, educated take on, say, UFO narratives using psychology (Jung, etc.) it wouldn’t really be worth much. If not psychology, sociology, if not that, science, they wanted something. Pointing out that folklore, while utilizing those areas in some ways, is not those things, -- well, we just went around.
 To the above, I will add that the aknowledgement of these things as possible, let alone real, was simply not an option.

At the time, Chupacabras was big news in both the marginalized and fringe cultures of paranormal studies, as well as the mainstream news. Usual explanations from the latter group for Chupacabras included “cultural or sociological anxiety”, good old superstitions, and a sudden misunderstanding of predators and their affects on domestic and livestock, ranch and farm animals. As these stories do, Chupacabra faded away a bit, and for reasons I haven’t yet figured out, morphed into a new kind of Chupacabra: the canine type animal reported as a Chupacabra reported  throughout the United States.

Skeptic Benjamin Radford, in his recent and supposed solving of the chupacabras mystery, writes that one of the early Chupacabra witnesses, Madelyne Tolentino, had seen the movie Species a few weeks before her sighting of the Chupacabras, which Radford found “suspicious.”:
To me, that was the smoking gun," he said. "It can't be a coincidence that this Chupacabra that's now popping up around the world just happens to look exactly like the monster in this sci-fi film."
As usual with the kinder, gentler skeptic, the new tactic is not to accuse the witness of being mentally ill or a liar, just... “confused.”:
But Radford said he doesn't think Tolentino is a liar or hoaxer, just that she confused something she saw in a movie with something she saw in real life. 
There are similarities; but there are also differences. Like breasts, numerous tendrils upon the head, and the height of the entity, which is quite tall.

This same explanation -- of imagined creatures from an entertainment venue -- was offered by skeptics when Barney and Betty Hill described their encounters. An Outer Limits episode: "The Bellero Shield" aired on February 10th, 1964, a couple of weeks before the HIlls experienced their UFO sighting and abduction. Again, there are similarities to the aliens in the television episode, but differences as well, including height. Contrast the Outer Limits creature with drawings of what the Hills saw made by both the Hills and other artists.  Googling or otherwise searching out these images, and comparing and contrasting them for yourself will reveal that there are as many differences as there are similairites. (For a related article on imagery, see my Betty Hill's "The Supervisor": A Visceral Reaction, for UFO Digest.)

I’m not attempting to thoroughly analyze the merits of either case; but the point is, imagery within popular culture is often used to “explain” mysterious encounters. It’s silly to state images don’t influence us on many levels, every day, far more than we know. That is a whole other topic. At the same time, to throw about images from movies and television and use them to “solve” mysteries is just too simplistic.

I find it ironic that images and symbols are influencing us -- speaking to us --- every moment of every day and often in insidious and spooky ways, manipulated by the powers that be, and yet we remain ignorant of all that. At best, if we notice it at all, we label it “conspiracy theory” and move on. But the skeptics, and not a few UFO researchers, are quick to point to images as the cause for what’s perceived during paranormal or UFO encounters. This easy explanation takes care of everything in one fits all theory, and we no longer have to deal with the pesky supernatural, Fortean or UFO event.


  1. Ms. Casals search was doomed to fail from the start. There is no "Chupacabras lore" in Mexico - the phenomenon kicked off in May 1996 in Veracruz. However, there is a certain amount of background information (and a long history of mutilations) in Puerto Rico, although those early waves of the 1950s and mid-1970s never featured a visible protagonist.

  2. Hey Regan!

    I understand you doubt the Species/ chupacabra connection, but it's strange that you dismiss it so quickly without reading the full analysis (2 book chapter's worth). If you ever do, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    all best,


  3. I'd be happy to review said book if it comes my way.. :)

  4. Really? You seem to have already made up your mind. It's always fascinating to see people who are so certain that they are right, and whoever they are criticizing is wrong, without them taking the time to really read and understand the issues--or offering their own, better explanations. In science, it's not enough to say why you think the other person is wrong, you are expected to offer better evidence or theories that fit the facts....

    You can find a much more in-depth discussion of the evidence here:

  5. Oh, and another thing you and your readers might want to note: Though you seem to dismiss my research and conclusions out of hand, experts who are most knowledgeable about cryptozoology and chupacabras agree with me and endorse the book: Loren Coleman, Karl Shuker, and other long-time cryptozoologists gave the book glowing praise. Then again, they approached the information with an open mind and read more than a few paragraphs...

  6. ...Not to mention a strong endorsement by Jan Brunvand, perhaps one of the most respected living folklorists. I've also been asked to present a paper on folklore of the chupacabra at the American Folklore Society later this year.

    But then again, I don't know what I'm talking about, right?