A Chupacabra in Texas? Or Just a Mangy Coyote?

Even the man who saw it says it was a probably a mangy coyote.

July 12, 2011, 12:26 PM

July 12, 2011 — -- Let's get something straight: There is no real evidence that the mysterious chupacabra exists. Researchers say it's an urban (or rural) legend, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster.

Not even Jack Crabtree, a retired wildlife biologist from Lake Jackson, Texas, says he believes it. And he has the pictures to prove it.

On July 4 and again two evenings later, Crabtree and his wife, Linda, said they saw a slow-moving, almost hairless animal near the creek out back of their house in Lake Jackson.

"It was immediately clear to me it was a coyote with a severe case of mange," said Crabtree, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Sarcoptic mange is a condition caused by parasitic mites that can cause an animal to lose its fur.) "It was obviously sick."

Linda, a retired teacher, took some photos, and Jack passed them on to the local newspaper "with tongue in cheek," he said. Apparently the paper thought he was serious. The photo ran on the front page with a headline about a reported chupacabra sighting, and soon reporters were calling from Houston, about an hour's drive north.

"I've been amazed with the fascination people have with chupacabras and other mythical animals," he said. "I'm really not a believer in chupacabras or Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman."

Benjamin Radford, the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, doesn't believe either, and says he can put the legend of the chupacabra to rest. After five years of digging, he said he's uncovered the roots of the story.

Origins of a Legend

In a new book, "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore," Radford reports that the legend is only about 15 years old, started in Puerto Rico in 1995.

That's when Madelyne Tolentino, a housewife in the village of Canovanas, reported the first sighting to the local news, Radford said. After years tracing the story of the chupacabra, he said he finally reached her through Facebook, via her ex-husband, and interviewed her last year.

Radford said the creature reportedly spotted by Tolentino was about four feet high with wide, dark eyes, thin arms, and three fingers on each paw. It stood on two legs. She also said it lacked ears, had small air holes instead of a noise and feathery spikes on its back.

"She said she only saw it for a minute or two, it wasn't for very long," he said. "But she gave a whole description of the number of toes, eyes, an alien appearance, the teeth and she even noticed that it had no genitals."

Radford said Tolentino's story was picked up by UFO researchers, who spread the story on the Internet, where it went viral. It was featured on a popular Spanish-language TV talk show, and spread worldwide. He said the tale of the chupacabra thrives on the first-person accounts of people who claim to see it -- and the very active imagination of the public at large.

"She said she only saw it for a minute or two, it wasn't for very long," he said. "But she gave a whole description of the number of toes, eyes, an alien appearance, the teeth and she even noticed that it had no genitals."

But Radford said that when he spoke with Tolentino during his research for the book, he found her detailed description of the chupacabra was too detailed. In fact, he said, it was "suspiciously detailed."

And, during their interview, Radford said, Tolentino revealed that just weeks before her mysterious sighting, she had seen the hit science-fiction movie "Species," which features characters that look much like the chupacabra of her memory.

"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."

A Chupacabra? Or a Sick Coyote?

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.

"It doesn't matter what I write, it doesn't matter that I solved this. People are still going to see a weird hairless thing and someone is going to call it a chupacabra," he said. "I think the bigger answer is that people like mysteries. And the idea of a Hispanic beast that sucks goats' blood is kind of cool -- it captures the public's imagination."

Back in Texas, Crabtree said he was surprised how the story of his coyote sighting spread. He said he has borrowed a live trap from the local animal control office, and in the unlikely event the poor animal can be caught, he would call the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to see if it can be nursed back to health.

"There was never any intention of hurting anyone," he said.

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