Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Picture it: September of 1995, in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. Mysterious deaths of farm animals have been continuously plaguing the countryside. The only information about the deaths are two clues left on the carcasses — vampire-like puncture wounds and desanguination. A hair-raising eyewitness report has just provided the first-ever description of the elusive-yet-terrifying creature we now know as the chupacabra.
Now hold on to your hats, fellow creeps and cryptid lovers, because things are about to get a lot … less … spooky?
A bit of critical thinking can go a long way
Benjamin Radford takes a long, hard, scientific look at this original testimony and the legend it spawned in his book, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folkore. He knows a thing or two about dealing with cryptids and scientific evidence; he’s not only the Deputy Editor of Skeptical Inquirer, he’s also the co-founder and co-host of the popular podcast Squaring the Strange.
The goatsucker (the literal translation of “chupacabra), however, isn’t just your average cryptid. It brings in elements of mass hysteria, conspiracy, and anti-Americanism which make it different from your everyday Bigfoot.
Radford spent five years researching for Tracking the Chupacabra, following up with eyewitnesses, running forensic evidence, and even wandering through the Puerto Rican jungle, searching for physical evidence of the beast’s existence. What he found were conflicting details, canids, sloppy reporting, and a whole lot of scientific illiteracy.
There’s no mincing of words here — there’s little to no evidence the chupacabra exists in reality. While anything is possible, at this point it seems highly unlikely. Though the real, living, blood-feasting chupacabra is gone (declared “dead” by Radford), the myth will always be with us.
“The chupacabra is dead. Long live the chupacabra.”
Radford does well to point out a lot of extremely interesting connections to the past, like the chupacabra’s most obvious folklore ancestor, the vampire. He goes into depth about variations of the chupacabra and its similarities to other entities across the world. It wasn’t lost on him that all except for one occurrence of the chupacabra have been in Spanish-speaking areas of the world. Equally interesting and horrifying, he presents the connections between colonialism and folklore (a quite gripping part of Tracking the Chupacabra).
Radford’s biggest revelation is that the very first, original description of the chupacabra was oddly similar to the character Sil, from the movie Species. Which just happened to be released in 1995, and featured a scene set in Puerto Rico. It really begs the question, “How did everyone fall for this junk?”
Luckily, Radford has some explanations. Sensational news headlines, conspiracy theories of UFOs and secret U.S. genetic programs, “End of Times” religious prophecies, people who don’t really understand animal predation or the decomposition process; they all have a place in chupacabra lore. It’s a chaotic, weird ride from beginning to end, but you have to read it to find out how it all fits together.
Is it good?
Tracking the Chupacabra is a fantastic book that provides a lot of detailed information on the chupacabra, in a way that anyone can understand. Radford’s voice is clear and honest, and sometimes injected with witty quips that bring a laugh. There are some amazing facts from history, folklore, and fiction that many people, especially in the U.S., may not be aware of.
Some passages do start to feel repetitive or long-winded, especially when you can already see where the story is heading, but that seems to kind of be the point. It drives the information home and shows the reader that, quite often, people mistake common things for the unexplained.
This book would make a great addition to any library, but might be hard to digest for the diehard cryptid fans. It’s clean and worded in a way that even kids age 12 and up should have no issues following along.
Tracking the Chupacabra will serve as a good reminder to everyone that we all need to use a bit of critical thinking and do our best to not blur the lines between sci-fi and reality.
AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.
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