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Texas 2004: The Bald Dog of Elmendorf

I first became involved in the hunt for the notorious chupacabra during the early months of 1998 when, together with my friend and colleague Graham Inglis, I set said for the Carribean island of Puerto Rico together with a film crew from UK Channel 4. Over the next few weeks I discovered two very important things. Firstly, that the aforementioned film crew were not the slightest bit interested in hunting for the grotesque four foot high vampiric beast, but were more interested in making a silly film about a fat bloke (me) squeezing in and out of a small car, and secondly that most of my preconceptions about the chupacabra were completely wrong. On my return, I wrote a book about the expedition in which I propounded the theory that the `creature` was a supernatural entity, and could not possibly be a flesh and blood animal. Six years later, I returned to the island and found – to my amusement – that this hypothesis was completely and utterly wrong; that I now knew (within reasonable doubt) what the chupacabra actually was, and that it wasn’t a demon, and wasn’t even remotely vampiric. However, this is another story entirely.

But in the intervening years I did begin to realize some very important things about the chupacabra phenomenon. Although I was eventually able to explain the Puerto Rican incidents within the framework of orthodox zoology, the phenomenon as a whole could only be understood within a socio political framework. People needed there to be a grotesque blood sucking daemon living in the caves of Puerto Rico. The cryptozoological community needed to be able to postulate absurd hypotheses about it being an aquatic, spined, vampiric monkey. The UFO community needed to be able to believe that the United States government (who couldn’t even cover up the fact that their one-time president was partial to the odd blow-job), were involved in genetic experimentation of almost blasphemous proportions. The other thing I realized was that the peculiar, hunchbacked, tail-less kangaroo with spikes had never actually been sighted by a reputable witness outside the Canovenas plateau on the island of Puerto Rico itself, and that the further away from the motherlode one got, the less like the original chupacabra the accounts became. By the turning of the century, the term chupacabra had ceased to be merely a name for the quasi-vampiric biped of the Puerto Rican highlands, but had become a Latino equivelant of `The Bogey Man`. Everything from pterodactyl-like creatures, to bigfoot like creatures, and from alien ‘greys’ to roadkilled animals inflated with the gas of their own putrefaction had become labeled the chupacabra and the term was rapidly becoming meaningless.

I suppose that the cryptozoological community shouldn’t have been surprised. After all the same thing had happened in Australia. The term bunyip had originally been used by Australian aborigines to describe a semi-aquatic mystery animal, which many zoologists – most notably Heuvelmans and Peter Costello – has hypothesized was some kind of freshwater seal. By the end of the 1990s however, it had become a catch all term for anything strange, and a storyline of one of the more crass Antipodean soap operas had even used the term to describe a putative visitor from outer space!

It wasn’t until my second visit to Puerto Rico in the July of 2004 that I discovered where the name chupacabra ha actually originated. The head of the Canovenas Civil Defence team; Ismael Agauyo told me that he and a friend had coined the term in a Canovenas bar in 1994. Coming from two Spanish words chupa (suck) and cabra (goat), it was a simple descriptive name for the mystery predator which had left so much of the island’s smaller livestock exsanguinated.

In the early spring of 2004, Devin Macanally, a rancher who owned a smallholding near Elmendorf – a small town outside San Antonio in Texas – saw a strange bluey-grey dog-like animal scavenging for mulberries that had fallen from a tree in his garden. Macanally – an amateur naturalist – watched the creature for a while, and then forgot about it. He saw it again several times over the next months, and when thirty-five of his domestic poultry, and at least one of his heifer calves were killed by an unknown predator, he did what so many other farmers have done across the globe when confronted by an unknown animal that they believed had been killing their livestock, and the next time he saw it, he reached for his rifle and shot it.

A picture of the strange, wizened blue-grey corpse was flashed across the wire services and soon ended up in the cryptozoological newsgroups on the internet. Nobody knows who it was who first suggested that the animal was a chupacabra – it certainly wasn’t Macanally, because in one of the earliest news stories about the incident he is quoted as saying: "First thing that came to my mind, is surely everybody's gonna think this is a chupacabra. But it's so odd because it has no hair."

He told reporters from the beginning, as he told me the following November, that he had no doubt that this was some kind of strange dog-like creature, and that there was nothing the slightest bit paranormal about it. However, the damage was done and another news story quoted:

“At the nearby Deleon's Grocery and Market, customers come in to check out pictures of it. One woman says it is exactly how her grandmother described the dreaded chupacabra.“

Well, we know that this is nonsense, if only because we have conclusively proved that the term chupacabra was not even coined until a decade ago by my mate Ismael back in Canovenas. However, the story spread across the internet like wildfire, and as always, everyone with a vested interest got on board and decided to voice their opinions about it. Whitley Strieber – a gentleman whose main claim to fame is that he made a fortune telling the world about his nocturnal anal adventures with aliens, contacted Macanally, and took away bones and/or tissue for DNA analysis. Macanally heard nothing for some while, but told me that he was “disappointed” when the first that he heard of the test ‘results’ was when Strieber announced that the DNA “had deteriorated due to exposure to light, heat or radiation” and was unidentifiable.