[The following story appeared in the Boston Globe on April 13, written by Alisa Valdes.]
Chupacabras means "goat sucker" in Spanish. First reported in Puerto Rico almost two years ago, the Chupacabras has become monstrously famous on the island. And now, largely the result of constant publicity in the Spanish-language media in the mainland United States, the Chupacabras legend is gaining notoriety among many Latinos here -- including a Cambridge [Mass] resident who reportedly saw it.
Some who claim to have seen it say it is between 4 and 5 feet tall, has red eyes, fangs, gray skin, powerful hind legs, spinal quills that double as wings and a penchant for sucking the blood out of livestock and pets. The Chupacabras sightings are vast, including Miami, New York City, New Jersey, San Antonio, San Francisco and even Moscow. But a letter sent to the Massachusetts office of the Puerto Rican government last month trumpeted the first [Boston area] "appearance."
Written by hand in Spanish, it was addressed to the "Very esteemed governor" of Puerto Rico and began: "This letter is to give you some very important information regarding national security."
It went on to say: "You can find the Chupacabras near Pampas restaurant at 927 Mass. Ave. in Cambridge," where it was spotted drinking the blood of a cat. The two-page letter ended with, "I await your help in this matter."
"When I first saw that letter I said, OK, this might be some kind of psycho," said Tito Roman, director of the office. "And because there was no return address we couldn't really respond to it. But we got a good laugh out of it. I thought, oh it's been spotted in Cambridge now. Run for your life!"
The letter is just one example of what can be called Chupacabramania, fueled in part by the popular Miami-based Univision talk show "Cristina." Sujayla Curras was the producer of a recent "Cristina" episode about the Chupacabras.
"Chupacabras is hot," she said in a telephone interview. "It's happening. There are T-shirts about it, merchandising like you wouldn't believe. ... It's got it... like Brad Pitt."
Locally, $10 Chupacabras T-shirts are for sale at several stores. Many who buy Chupacabras merchandise say they view the creature as a kind of cultural mascot, similar to the Irish leprechaun. There is even a Chupacabras home page on the Internet, which is said to have gotten as many as 340 hits in a day for a total of 20,000 since it was created last year. And local Spanish radio stations are playing songs dedicated to the beast, such as "Goat Busters" and "Chupacalafragalisticexpialidocious."
It all began in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, where goats and other domesticated animals were reportedly showing up with deep puncture wounds in their necks. Ismael Aguayo works in the Civil Defense office in the town and is the chief detective in the sightings probe. "We are all very worried here," he said. "Our animals are dying at an alarming rate. Many people have described the creature to me, and they all say the same things, including our local pastor and many other credible, Christian citizens. For now it's just animals being attacked. But we are worried that our children will be next."
Canovanas Mayor Jose Soto responded to public panic by leading a search for the Chupacabras, armed with a 12-inch crucifix. The search was inconclusive, said Nidea Rodriguez, director of public relations in Soto's office, but the investigation continues.
As outrageous as the idea of a Chupacabras may seem, dozens of animal carcasses have been turned in to the government of Puerto Rico, especially in the Canovanas area, prompting many skeptics, including talk show host Cristina Saralege, to change their minds. "I used to laugh every time someone mentioned the Chupacabras," she said in a telephone interview. "But after doing the show and listening to many serious, credible people, I have to tell you, I don't think all the US sightings are the Chupacabras, but as far as what's going on in Puerto Rico, I don't think it's a normal animal at all."
Despite assurances from government officials, the sightings continue. Three weeks after the first airing of the "Cristina" show in Miami, the Chupacabras appeared there. Three weeks after that, it was in Los Angeles. In Miami to date, as many as 50 animals have been reported as victims of the Chupacabras. "People here are hysterical," said a Miami Police Department spokesman.
In an attempt to assuage growing fears, last Monday the University of Miami, working with the Metro Zoo, also conducted public necropsies on animals supposedly killed by the Chupacabras in Dade County. "The event was well-attended and well-covered by the local press, Spanish and English," said Miami Police Detective Pat Brickman. He said that in the months leading up to the necropsies, Miami police were receiving dozens of Chupacabras reports weekly.
"We had to conduct these autopsies to say, 'Idiots, these are dog bites,'" said Brickman."There are hungry stray dogs out there, and they have to eat, too. So they attack goats and chickens in people's yards. It happens on every farm and in every rural area in the United States. But when you get people who believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, they believe everything they see on TV."
Some say the myth of the Chupacabras should not be so easily dismissed. At least one other legendary creature in Puerto Rican history, the Vampire of Moca, turned out to be real -- sort of. The "vampire," which mauled animals, turned out to be crocodiles introduced illegally into the delicate ecology of the island that mauled animals as they sought refreshment at certain watering holes.
"While it's funny to laugh about the Chupacabras, we should not discount the mounds of evidence people have found, nor should we disrespect the reports of hundreds of people," said Hector Armstrong, the Princeton University student who initiated the Chupacabras Internet home page.
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