Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County’s Ilka Daniel wasn’t sure what she would find after being called out to help a scary-looking, unfamiliar creature trapped in a garbage dumpster in early November.
Since Florida has no shortage of crazy critter sightings, many were quick to assume that Daniel had come across el “chupacabra,” the folkloric vampire-like creature that mercilessly mutilates livestock and pets so that it can feed on their blood.
But what Daniel successfully rescued turned out to be a slightly dehydrated, very frightened and pitiful-looking hairless male raccoon that was later transported to a wildlife sanctuary for care.
Like the albino alligator, the 6-tentacled octopus and the 4-legged duck, Daniel’s “chupacabra” seemed to be a rare mutation.
The Legend of El Chupacabra
"El Chupacabra" is a legend that’s gained widespread popularity in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala and Hispanic communities throughout the United States.
The horrific beast derives its name from the Spanish "chupar" ("to suck") and "cabra" ("goat").
El Chupacabra first struck around 1995 after a series of mutilated goats were found in Puerto Rico. From there, reports of livestock mutilations caused by these terrifying animals quickly spread.
The chupacabra frenzy had begun.
When Texas teen Sylvia Ybarra found her pet female goat lifeless in 1996, the nefarious chupacabra was her first suspect.
With bite wounds covering the dead animal’s neck, the 19-year-old Ybarra was fearful the legendary monster might start stalking humans. She told The Austin American Statesman:
"I think it's watching over us…It might happen again. We never know when it's going to come back."
Over the last 16 years, accounts of these horrific creatures have steadily worked their way into agricultural communities.
Sometimes called the "Bigfoot of the Caribbean," El Chupacabra’s freakish description is as varied as the locales where it’s been allegedly spotted. A mix of vampire, alien and reptile with glowing red eyes and spikes down the spine is often how the much-feared chupacabra is depicted.
Digging Up the Truth Behind El Chupacabra
While chupacabras have been portrayed as fiendish monsters, biologists, veterinarians, zoologists and other animal experts have long suspected that what the public is actually seeing are coyotes and dogs with mange, or perhaps even anomalous wildlife like Daniel’s hairless raccoon.
In 1996, that’s exactly what Miami MetroZoo Assistant Director Ron Magill and University of Miami professor of pathology and veterinarian Dr. Alan Herron set out to prove.
Flooded with questions about the possibility of the chupacabra’s existence, Magill enlisted Herron’s help to debunk the rumors.
In an operating room filled with television cameras and reporters, Herron performed a necropsy on a female goat supposedly mauled by El Chupacabra.
While everyone was hoping for an odd discovery, Herron’s examination ended all speculation. His surgical incision seeped blood, and all of the goat’s internal organs were intact.
"A pack of wild dogs did it," Herron announced. Magill was relieved.
"From this day on, I will not answer any more questions about the chupacabras," he announced after the animal’s necropsy was completed.
Like Magill and Herron, Daniel hopes to debunk chupacabra rumors and quell fears about creatures we may not be able to immediately recognize.
While the animal she captured was virtually unidentifiable without fur, he exhibited common raccoon anatomy and behaviors. As he moved his body in a typical raccoon-like manner, Daniel’s creature quickly transitioned from the category of urban legend to urban wildlife.
"People may jump to conclusions when they see animals like this raccoon, and may even be frightened", she remarked soon after her raccoon rescue, adding that careful observation of the animal led to a logical, less terrifying explanation.