Chupacabras -- Fact or Fantasy? No One Has Definite Answer Yet
by Karl Ross, Star Staff.
Is it fact or fantasy? The chupacabras, that is, the bloodsucking beast said to be ravaging animals throughout the countryside.
The government veterinarian charged with investigating a rash of reported animal mutilations says the attacks can be pinned on packs of stray dogs.
A fellow veterinarian, however, says at least several cases in which he has conducted post-mortem examinations suggest the culprit is a rare beast indeed.
Both colleagues are careful about criticizing the other's findings. Although they refrain from trading charges and countercharges of "kook" or "cover-up," the forensic evidence each presents clashes.
Hector Garcia, director of Veterinary Services at the Department of Agriculture, says his boss, Agriculture Secretary Neftali Soto, instructed him to keep tabs on the reported animal killings in October as CHUPACABRAS hysteria crested.
Government officials estimate close to 100 cases of unexplained attacks, mostly on farm animals but also on some family pets, have been reported during 1995. Of those, Agriculture officials have visited the scene of a dozen or so attacks. [NOTE: Independent researcher Jorge Martin says there have been far more cases than those acknowledged by local authorities. -ed.]
Garcia said many of the facts surrounding the slayings have been grossly distorted. For starters, he said that the name CHUPACABRAS -- literally goat sucker -- is a misnomer. Media reports claiming the furry victims were "sucked dry" were dead wrong, he said.
"If [predators in alleged CHUPACABRAS attacks] were sucking blood, they would have gone from the jugular vein or carotid artery", Garcia said, naming the main circulatory passages in the neck. "In every case they were perfectly intact."
In all the cases of animal slayings his team examined, Garcia said, the bite marks were consistent with those of dogs. The most likely scenario for the killings is similar to that witnessed by his grandfather years ago on his Morovis farm, when stray dogs tore apart 17 goats, he said.
"He tried to scare them away with a revolver, but couldn't," he said.
Carlos Soto, a Levittown veterinarian trained at Kansas State University, realizes he is going out on a limb by going public with findings that support the existence of a new breed of predator fitting the m.o. of the CHUPACABRAS.
"We know there are lots of things out there that could be killing animals," Soto said. "We know there are dogs, monkeys, exotic pets in places like the Tortuguero Lagoon. We know there are people practicing santeria [a folk religion that includes animal sacrifices -ed.]. But in addition, there is something new out there that we don't know about. And that's what this is."
Soto says he doesn't know how else to explain what happened to the seven rabbits, six sheep and Doberman pinscher whose remains were entrusted to him.
Consider "Pepper," the 5-year-old Doberman pinscher Soto examined back in April. Five hours after it was reportedly killed by asphyxiation, the body exhibited only limited signs of rigor mortis and blood samples failed to coagulate, he said. Illness or poisoning could account for such symptoms, though Soto said he doesn't believe that to be the case.
"She was a healthy animal," is the story its owners told him about how the 95 pound attack dog died. "They said they saw the whole thing," Soto said. "What they described as a PAJARRACO, or giant bird, about three feet tall with long talons and a greyish-black coat, leapt at it from a palm tree and choked it to death."
The freezer at Soto's clinic contains yet another forensic conundrum. It holds two of the seven rabbits killed in October from twin puncture wounds entering beneath the right side of the jaw and extending into the brain. The wounds are about the diameter of a drinking straw, and, according to Soto, ran 3 to 4 inches deep, meaning that if they were killed by an animal, its teeth were twice as long as the canine fangs on even the largest dog.
"If it was a dog or a monkey there would have been extensive tissue damage caused by the upper teeth," said Soto, who concurred with Garcia that blood was not drained from the animals' corpses.
The rabbits were delivered to him more than 12 hours after their demise, and as with the Doberman, the rabbits showed no signs of rigor mortis, he said.
But that wasn't all. Soto said one of the rabbits displayed a wound on the back of the neck in the form of a perfectly carved circle, and several strands of muscle tissue were cleanly stripped. He noted that the same rabbit's jaw muscle was missing, apparently severed from the inside of the mouth. But it wasn't until he sliced open the rabbit as a standard part of the autopsy that Soto saw "what really freaked me out."
Though the rabbit bore no outward scars, its trachea and esophagus were missing, Soto said. "The animal can't breath without a trachea," he went on. "If it was a human that did this, he would have to be darn good surgeon and I would like to enroll in his class."
The second rabbit did not exhibit the circular wound, Soto said, but there was something bizarre. Something, he said, had pierced its stomach and extracted a jagged piece of tissue from the liver in a procedure similar to that of a biopsy. "It was like it was taking a small sample of the liver tissue and that's it," he said.
The final case Soto examined occurred in early December at the Canovanas farm of police Lt. Jorge Rivera, director of the Carolina Homicide Division. The victims of this attack were six sheep. Soto said the bodies were stamped with clusters of strange puncture wounds, some in pairs and others in the form of triangles "like the finger holes in a bowling ball."
Again, Soto said he could not match the wounds with those of any known predator.
And as outlandish as the implications of such findings seem to be, none of Soto's colleagues have publicly challenged them. Not even Garcia, the Agriculture official handed the job of finding out if there is a serial killer taking animals, large and small alike, in the countryside.
Garcia acknowledges he doesn't have much time for investigating the CHUPACABRAS capers, though officials at La Fortaleza are clearly leery about calls from tourists as far away as California asking if its safe to visit the island.
"We have 10 programs here that are important to industry, and I can't abandon a program every time there's a CHUPACABRAS sighting," Garcia said. "I don't have time for wild goose chases."
At the same time, Garcia was reluctant to dismiss Soto's findings, which appear to be the exception rather than the rule, outright. "Pathology is a very exact science," Garcia said. "But in every morgue there's a John Doe in the freezer whose cause of death is unknown."
Original file name: .CNI - New Chupacabras 1.29
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