Cabybara in California; 'Chupacabra' in Maryland

PHOTO: This animal was found in the woods behind a Maryland hospital in August 2011, and trapped by an X-ray technician, Joe Livermore. He was told its probably a fox, but for now hospital staffers say they just call it a chupacabra.
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Just think! A capybara in California, and a chupacabra in Maryland, all in the same wave of news stories.

Leaving aside that they were on opposite ends of the country, they are also at opposite ends of the reality spectrum. A capybara is real -- the world's largest rodent, sometimes as big as a small dog. A chupacabra, on the other hand, has been called an urban (or perhaps rural) legend, traced to one woman in Puerto Rico in the 1990s.

Reality first: capybaras, which are nocturnal, like water and make lousy pets, are rarely sighted. One was seen coming out of a pond at a wastewater treatment plant in Paso Robles, Calif. Workers at the plant watched it wander around and finally make its way to the nearby Salinas River.

Capybara photographed July 22 at Paso Robles water treatment plant by Nick Kamp.

That was three weeks ago, and they're still talking about it.

"The reasonable speculation is that someone brought it in as a pet, and either it got away, or they just couldn't handle it anymore," said Andrew Hughan of the California Department of Fish and Game. "It's not a danger to anybody."

He said he worried that someone would take a shot at it, and local officers might try to trap it so nobody gets hurt.

"We're hoping it'll live a nice, happy capybara life in Paso Robles," Hughan said, "and we never hear about it again."

Click for Pictures: Capybara, World's Biggest Rodent

Now on to the little matter of chupacabras. They've popped into the news again (perhaps you searched for one on Google and found our story) because of a sad-looking animal that was found wandering around the woods behind Prince George's Hospital Center in Maryland, where employees often went for cigarette breaks.

"I don't smoke, but curiosity got the better of me and I would go over there from time to time to see if I could grab a glimpse of it," said Joe Livingston, an X-ray technician at the hospital, who shot the picture at the top of this story. He said fellow staffers told tales of an animal with wings, or one that hopped like a kangaroo, or stood upright.

Livingston brought a trap from home. He used some chicken breast and leftover Chinese food as bait, and pretty soon he had the animal caged and photographed. Everyone agreed it was doing no harm, and would be easy to catch again, so Livingston said he let it go.

A local animal control officer said it was a mangy fox, but Livingston said nobody believed him.

"Of the 15 or so people that were out there, no one could give a answer as to what it was," he said. "Deer, giant rat, fox, dog, wolf -- who knows? For now we just all call him chupacabra."

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