Sightings of mangy animals add realism to chupacabra myth
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Last weekend, while across the border at Ciudad Aleman, I tried to find a chupacabras charm. If anyone asked what I was wearing back at the South Texas Historical Association meeting in San Ygnacio a bit up the Rio Grande on the U.S. side, I was going to tell them that I had it around my neck in respect for a old coyote that had died from a bad case of sarcoptic mange.
I thought it would be a good way to get a conversation started should anyone not know about chupacabras. First, from what I understand, the word chupacabras is both singular and plural, though often Americanized in print singularly as chupacabra. Meaning the sucker of goats, in the singular the blood sucking mythological beast in a more proper context would be referred to as "el chupacabras," or in the plural as "los chupacabras." I read that somewhere, either way we are talking mythology. There is no such beast as a chupacabras and never has been in the real world. Yet, just about anytime that there is a worst case sighting of a badly emaciated coyote or other canine suffering from the horrors of mange, dead or alive, it is likely that the word is going spread that it could be a chupacabra.
All the interest and publicity that was generated in recent months by the appearances of some such ugly creatures around Cuero is just the latest example, there being many other past instances of sightings in South Texas and elsewhere. One of the more notable was that of a similar creature killed in August 2004 at Elmendorf near San Antonio.
After being shot by rancher Devin McAnally, it reportedly having killed some 35 of his chickens, there was widely diverse speculation that it was some sort of hybrid wolf-coyote cross, a Mexican hairless dog, a monkey, a Muntjac deer, or the dreaded chupacabra. From descriptions in the newspapers and now on the Internet, what became known as the Elmendorf Beast bore a striking resemblance to the creature at Cuero recently determined to be an old coyote by DNA testing at Texas State University.
The Elmendorf Beast, which is also said to have been a mangy coyote, was further described as being in poor health, hairless with bluish-gray skin, malnourished, somewhat resembling a dog, and having a severe overbite. That sure sounds a whole lot like the one at Cuero, both at first appearing to be some unknown creature. Soon after the one at Elmendorf, another one was killed at Pollok in Angelina County with another being spotted, the strange looking creatures also having been determined to be coyotes suffering from sarcoptic mange. Not limited to any region in Texas, some others have been found at times at Coleman, Lufkin, Beeville, and just about anyplace where there are coyotes in Texas, also in other states. There was a fox discovered in North Carolina in a similar condition.
While working on a recent Halloween column, I found a clipping saved from 1999 when Texas A&M University-Kingsville was featuring South Texas folk tales at public libraries as part of its Circuit Riders series of lectures. Anthropology professor Miguel Leatham noted that there was a rash of chupacabras sightings during the 1990s in the Rio Grande Valley.
Such sightings, apparently mostly of mangy coyotes, do add a bit of realism to a mythological creature that is sometimes described as being the size of a small bear with a forked tongue and spines running down its back. That makes it more extraterrestrial than something that one might otherwise expect to find on this planet. As with all such folk tales, there are many versions, another being that it is some sort of hairless dog with spines. It does not appear in mythology as an ugly old coyote with a bad case of mange.
As mentioned in news accounts during the Kingsville lectures, there are Tejano songs about the imaginary creatures, their image can be found on T-shirts, and little vicious looking rubber chupacabras are sold in border town markets.
They are a way to get a conversation going in any form.
Henry Wolff Jr. is a longtime Victoria Advocate columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.