By Rene Villegas
MEXICO CITY (Reuter - May 13, 1996) -- Is it a bat? Is it a witch? Is it from Mars?
This much is known: it is furry, has big bulbous eyes and sucks the blood of goats and other creatures. The mysterious vampire-like creature known as "Chupacabras" (goatsucker) has gripped the fevered imaginations of many Mexicans.
While government officials appeal for calm, enterprising trinket sellers have jumped on the bandwagon with Chupacabras T-shirts and key-rings in the northern city of Tijuana and are offering tours of sites allegedly linked to the creature.
Some say it is an extraterrestrial life form. Others say drought in Mexico's northern states has driven bats, wolves and coyotes to carry out the attacks to slake their thirst. Reports from at least nine of the 31 Mexican states tell of attacks on animals and one person by the fanged menace.
Witnesses say it sucks their blood until they die, leaving tell-tale puncture marks on the neck and other mutilations.
The designs on the Tijuana key-rings and T-shirts, taken from the accounts of witnesses who claim to have seen the creature, show a giant, furry winged rodent with staring eyes and razor-sharp teeth.
The attacks are not just on goats. Reports from remote rural regions list sheep, cows, horses, hens, pigs and rabbits among Chupacabra's victims.
Only one man so far says he has been attacked. A shaken Angel Pulido, a campesino farmer from the village of La Alameda near Guadalajara in the western state of Jalisco, recently showed reporters two bite marks on the right arm he says he got from "a giant bat that looked like a witch."
"And you should know that my husband is very brave and isn't easily frightened," his wife, Irma Ponce, told Siglo XXI newspaper.
Maximiliano Esparza, governor of the northern state of Durango says -- possibly tongue-in-cheek -- he is considering offering a reward for the capture of the Chupacabra. Other officials are trying to dampen the wave of panic with a dose of skepticism.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Romarico Arroyo said Thursday there is no such thing as a Chupacabra and also took time to deny the presence of extraterrestrials in Mexico.
"This has gone from a scare to a form of entertainment," he said, adding that all the cases investigated by the ministry showed that wolves or coyotes had carried out the attacks.
The health ministry of the northern state of Sinaloa had a different explanation, saying Wednesday that the mysterious creature is most likely a 32-inch bat, sometimes known for blood-sucking, which lives in remote mountainous areas.
The state's medical services chief Carlos Vega said the bats are suffering from the drought, which has killed many of the animals they usually feed on, and are ranging further afield
The rage has reached Mexico City, where among the hundreds of acrobats, fire-eaters and clowns, many of them children, who ply the streets in search of the odd motorist's coin, little "draculas" with plastic fangs have now appeared.
"Goatsucker fallen on hard times: help me out," a sign carried by one of them read.
Original file name: CNI - Chupa.Mexico 5.13
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