Outside magazine, September 1996
CANØVANAS, PUERTO RICO--An unwelcome anniversary is being celebrated here, one that elicits not joy from the citizens of this and neighboring towns, but anxiety. It was a year ago this month that the residents of Guaynabo, a suburb of San Juan, awoke to a troubling scene: Strewn about in the yards of several homes were the still bodies of two rabbits, two guinea fowls, and a dozen chickens. Their necks were neatly perforated by double-fang bites, and their corpses had been drained of blood.
Two days later, in Canüvanas, a small city of 37,000 people located 30 miles east of San Juan, Michael Negron, 25, discovered an agile, erect, two-legged creature hopping animatedly in the dirt outside his house. "It was about three or four feet tall, with skin like that of a dinosaur," he said. "It had eyes the size of hens' eggs, long fangs, and multicolored spikes down its head and back."
These two incidents, the first in a pattern of unusual events that have swept across Puerto Rico and much of the rest of the Western Hemisphere over the last 12 months, seemed to warrant further investigation. A few days spent not long ago questioning the citizenry of this rainforest hamlet produced the following details.
The creature seen by Mr. Negron did not display friendly behavior. The morning after the sighting, Mr. Negron's brother, Angel, 27, observed the same beast crouched over the family goat, Suerte. Attempts by Mr. Negron to roust the mysterious creature succeeded, and it retreated hastily into the jungle.
Mr. Negron then turned his attentions to Suerte, lying dead in the yard. The goat had been neatly slit open and disemboweled, its warm viscera glistening in the morning sun. Gazing upon the scene, Mr. Negron later admitted to being struck by the surgical care that had been exercised upon his goat. It was his opinion that the unfamiliar predator had been browsing expertly through the goat's entrails, looking for something.
In the months following these encounters, other sightings were reported in the vicinity of Canüvanas, a densely populated city of ramshackle shacks and pastel cement homes perched on steep, lush hillsides. At least 15 people witnessed the creature. One Canüvanas townsperson found his cow lying dead in a field with two punctures in its neck. Another man, who maintained a small chicken aviary on the roof of his home--guarded by the family dog, Too--found the aviary plundered and the fowl dead. Later, the dog was located behind the house, trembling "in a state of fear," according to the farmer.
On another occasion, the creature paused on the sidewalk outside the home of Madelyne Tolentino, studying her as she hung her laundry out to dry. Mrs. Tolentino, 31, joined her husband and a neighbor in a hurried attempt to tackle the animal--which she described as both alien-looking and kangaroolike, with powerful hind legs and a strong sulfurous odor--but the beast managed to escape.
Disturbed by these developments, residents asked Canüvanas mayor Jos‹ Soto Rivera to mount a campaign against the animal, which had acquired the name el chupacabras, the goatsucker. Mr. Soto, 52, agreed. "Whatever it is, this creature is highly intelligent," he later explained to the viewing audience of Cristina!, a Spanish-language talk show taped in Miami. "Today it is attacking animals, but tomorrow it may attack people."
Midnight Jungle Searches
Known locally as Chemo, a nickname from his days as a standout boxer, Mr. Soto is a quiet, ruggedly handsome man with a thin, dapper mustache. Before becoming mayor, he also pursued careers as a soldier, a mailman, and a police detective.
Mr. Soto said that on October 29, the Sunday before Halloween, he led an evening expedition of 200 Civil Defense employees and other volunteers into the dense jungle surrounding Canüvanas. They dressed in camouflage and armed themselves with torches, nets, spearguns, pistols, and other weapons. Seeking to capture a live goatsucker, they erected large, metal traps, baiting them with goats and small cattle.
"We're close," Mr. Soto recalled saying, referring to his prey. "I can smell him."
Unfortunately, the goatsucker eluded the posse that evening, and it continued to do so on subsequent weekly hunts. "We've never seen him," Mr. Soto acknowledged, speaking between occasional interruptions from his cellular phone. "We can't catch him or beat him."
Rabbits Slain on Long Island
On May 10, a rooster fell victim in Mendota, California, and the Fresno County Department of Agriculture subsequently logged ten complaints of goatsucker activity, prompting worried parents to cancel their children's prom outings. According to the St. Petersburg Times, 69 animals were attacked and killed on May 14 in the Miami neighborhood known as Sweetwater. The victims included geese, goats, chickens, and ducks. By May 17, half of Mexico's 32 states had registered attacks involving the creature.
These escalating reports led some communities in the United States to make light of the situation, an all too common reaction to unexplained phenomena. At the annual Puerto Rico Day festival in New York City, scores of paraders fashioned goatsucker costumes in an attempt to find levity in the tragedies befalling their homeland. On May 19, several pranksters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, claimed to have observed the creature, a sighting that was later determined to be specious. "I knew it was headed our way," Cambridge Chamber of Commerce staff member Alison Dowd later mused in the Boston Herald. "But I had no idea it was already here."
And yet that same week, out on Long Island, New York, an actual goatsucker struck the Bayshore home of Miguel Lopez, 42, dispatching a dozen chickens and seven rabbits with its classic double-fanged bite.
In the fearful months since the attack on Mr. Lopez's animals--and continuing up to and presumably after Outside's press date--goatsuckers have drained, killed, and mutilated hundreds of domestic livestock throughout the hemisphere, and, operating in increasingly brazen fashion, have effected scores of thus far nonlethal attacks on humans.
DNA Results Inconclusive
Despite this laboratory setback, Mr. Soto perseveres, methodically stalking his prey using all techniques available to him. He maintains a thick file devoted to his adversary, with depositions from witnesses and experts, photos of the dead livestock and of the baited traps, and his own notes on the case.
The victims on Mr. Soto's conscience are many--some 200 innocent animals, several of which he was personally acquainted with, including horses, cattle, sheep, rabbits, peacocks, parakeets, a Doberman pinscher, and a rottweiler.
Mr. Soto notes that some theorists have speculated that the creature may be the product of a gene-splicing lab, the abnormal result of industrial pollution, or part of a Central Intelligence Agency plan to destabilize the region.
Mr. Soto himself believes that the goatsucker is extraterrestrial, drawn to Puerto Rico by the Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest radio telescope, which nightly receives data from the planets beyond. "In my thoughts I know this is something from another world," he said.
Recently, the mayor shared his thoughts with an American television program, Unsolved Mysteries, and its host, Hollywood actor Robert Stack.
Eyewitness observations, the mayor noted, have provided a profile of the creature that is highly detailed: a cock's crest atop a simian head; large, red eyes; a long, lipless mouth with a flickering reptilian tongue; small, attenuated arms that are webbed for flight and that terminate in three curved claws; and dorsal spines of iridescent beauty that are capable of changing colors, depending on the goatsucker's prevailing mood.
At the mayor's request, Dr. Carlo Soto (no relation) performed autopsies on the dead livestock, and his report tells of deep, precisely inflicted puncture wounds "inconsistent" with any known animal.
The goatsucker apparently has highly specialized teeth of the length and diameter of a common drinking straw, with the same efficient liquid-sucking qualities.
Dr. Soto observed that the goatsucker's victims show an odd resistance to rigor mortis, and what little blood remains at the crime scenes resists the ordinary tendency to coagulate, thus remaining eminently drinkable.
Observed at Close Range
Known locally as El Yunque, the rainforest is the last remaining expanse of wilderness in this densely populated commonwealth of four million people. Among the practitioners of the island's many Afro-Caribbean religions, such as Santeria and Obeah, El Yunque remains a place of mystical power. Not infrequently, foresters discover small altars alongside the rivers, speckled with blood and ceremonial wax. Sacrificed chickens, their throats slit, can be seen floating down the forest's many streams, surprising tourists and picnickers from the city of San Juan.
Arriving at Campo Rico, a barrio of 3,000 people, Mr. Aquayo turned onto a side street and parked beside a tin-roofed garage, where he spoke for a moment with Miguel Tolentino, 35, an automobile mechanic and the husband of Madelyne Tolentino, the woman who spied the creature while hanging out her laundry.
Early on the morning in question, Mr. Tolentino had just begun repairs on a truck when, opening the hood, he flushed a goatsucker from its resting place beneath the vehicle. He saw it only for a second before it leaped away. Mr. Tolentino described the goatsucker as bounding, with little apparent effort, high over the trees--a leap that was later measured at approximately 40 feet.
Later that same day the goatsucker returned to the Tolentinos' neighborhood. It paced down the street, walking upright like a man, but slightly crouched. It stopped to stare at Madelyne Tolentino with its ovoid eyes. Mrs. Tolentino boldly stared back. Because this remains the longest close-proximity sighting of the goatsucker yet recorded, proper import should be given Mrs. Tolentino's observation.
The goatsucker appeared to be about three feet tall. It was brownish to black in color and seemed to have no hair on its abdomen. Its eyes were large and jellylike, with no apparent pupils.
It was at this point that the Tolentinos rushed the animal and the goatsucker bounded away.
Mrs. Tolentino saw the goatsucker one more time--a rare second sighting--on January 2 of this year. She was driving home and smelled the distinct, sulfurous indicator of goatsucker activity. Then, gazing up into the sky above her, Mrs. Tolentino spotted it--the goatsucker, floating in the air, rising and dipping almost gracefully. "Like a butterfly," she said.
No End in Sight
"As a farming community," he said, "we can't relax knowing that this goatsucker is out there killing our animals. He could take out a child, a woman, a defenseless man."
Mr. Soto is up for reelection this November and plans to frame the upcoming campaign around an "anti-chupacabras ticket." In the meantime, he still hopes to capture a live specimen.
"Something very strange is going on in our town," he said at the close of the interview, "and the world simply does not want to accept it." Mr. Soto then laid his hand on the goatsucker file. "This thing is not a joke."
Bucky McMahon is chief of this magazine's San Juan bureau.