Among the monsters said to roam the world’s desolate deserts and dense jungles, perhaps none is more feared than the bloodthirsty chupacabra (also spelled chupacabras). Rooted in conspiracy theory and anti-American sentiment, the chupacabra is a contradictory and bizarre amalgamation of vampiric monster, folk myth, and chameleon. It is a shapeshifter, changing its appearance and characteristics according to the time and place it is seen, and according to the beliefs and expectations of those who see it.

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Bigfoot, the mysterious bipedal beast said to roam the North American wilderness, is named after what it leaves behind: big footprints. Bigfoot’s Hispanic cousin, the chupacabra, is also known less for what it is than for what it leaves behind: dead animals. Though goats are said to be its favorite prey (chupacabra means goat sucker in Spanish), they have also been blamed for attacks on cats, sheep, rabbits, dogs, chickens, ducks, hogs, and other animals.

Descriptions of the chupacabra vary widely, but many accounts suggest that the creature stands about four to five feet tall. It has short but powerful legs that allow it to leap fantastic distances, long claws, and terrifying black or glowing red eyes. Some claim it has spikes down its back; others report seeing stubby, bat-like wings. Some say the stench of sulfur taints the air around chupacabras, or that it emits a terrifying hiss when threatened.

While some (mistakenly) claim that chupacabra sightings date back to the 1970s, the monster first gained real notoriety in 1995 in Puerto Rico. Until my research no one knew for certain why or how the chupacabra seemingly suddenly sprang into existence, but many Latin Americans believe it is the unholy creation of secret U.S. government experiments in the jungles of Puerto Rico. It had a heyday of about five years, when it was widely reported in Mexico, Chile, Nicaragua, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, and Florida, among other places.

The chupacabra can be categorized as appearing in three different physical forms (and countless cultural ones). Whatever form it takes, in fifteen years is has become a global phenomenon—the world’s third best-known monster (after Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster). In 2002, a writer for Fortean Times magazine noted that “Not since the advent of crop circles has a strange phenomenon been so quickly assimilated into popular culture. Chupacabras is now equal to the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot as a cultural icon.”

For a creature as well known as the chupacabra, it has been the subject of remarkably little serious research. Information on the beast is fragmentary, often poorly sourced, and contradictory. In the world of chupacabra, proven facts and wild speculations mix freely and indistinguishably. Researcher Karl Shuker has lamented the “immense confusion and contradiction” surrounding the chupacabra, making it “almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction, and reality from hearsay and local lore” about the creature.

The chupacabra has of course made its way into various books on mysterious and unexplained mysteries. While a few authors write with some scholarship and authority on the chupacabra, the vast majority of information on the subject is rife with error, mistaken assumption, and misinformation. Often this is because authors, instead of doing the “heavy lifting” of any actual investigation, fact-checking, or research, will simply copy liberally from other authors and other sources, sometimes embellishing or inventing facts along the way to spice up the story. Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore is the first to fully explore—and solve—the decades-old mystery of this monster.