In Pursuit of Goatsuckers

Speculation on the elusive and mischievous Chupacabra

Goatsuckers are not something you see every day. In fact, they are not something that most of us will ever see on any day. Nevertheless, so many Central Americans believe in their existence that, for their sakes, we need to give a fair hearing to the possibility. Whether goatsuckers exist or not, they are the stuff of local ghost stories. By most accounts, they are bipedal, have tails and claws, and have mostly reptilian traits.

Let me say right off that I believe that goatsuckers exist, or at least that they did exist until so recently that they remain a fresh presence in the collective imagination.

Like UFOs, we need to separate, first of all, probable reality from competing explanations, such as folk tales and sightings that are illusionary (erroneous perceptions of something real) or hallucinatory (perceptions with no objective basis).

If goatsuckers, or chupacabras, were a folk tale, they would be a pre-scientific explanation of natural phenomena, like volcanoes or will o’ the wisp. I don’t think this is the case, because people have actually seen goatsuckers and found them terrifying. They are not inventing the sighting for the sake of explaining something else.

As for illusions, these are likely enough, since goatsuckers are nocturnal, and we have all misperceived things in the dark. But they are not hallucinations; there is much agreement—if limited substance—about goatsucker anatomy and behavior.

People have actually seen goatsuckers and found them terrifying. They are not inventing the sighting for the sake of explaining something else

Some readers will complain, but I believe that UFOs are strictly terrestrial phenomena. Whatever UFOs are, I say they are not crafts piloted by beings that have mastered sidereal travel. All arguments I have ever heard in favor of the plausibility of interstellar passage sound forced and metaphysical, so I dismiss them. UFOs are from within our solar system, and almost certainly from Earth herself. So it must be with the goatsuckers.

Erich von Daniken might disagree with me. According to his Chariots of the Gods, intelligent beings visited Earth from the stars and engineered their apotheosis (promotion to godhood) in the minds of the Earthlings. He, uh, reasoned that the famed giant spiders, etc, etched into the Peruvian landscape (with the precision of a modern surveyor) were the work of extraterrestrials. Maybe it was their way of writing “Kilroy Was Here,” or of doing what dogs do to fire hydrants, lest aliens from elsewhere showed up with delusions of godhood.

Maybe Kilroy left the goatsuckers here during his trip to see if they would thrive. Or perhaps they crawled down the rocket’s mooring lines, much like rats first immigrated to the New World by jumping ship before Columbus’ flotilla weighed anchor. If all this sounds as preposterous to you as it does to me, then we can safely rule out the goatsuckers as space aliens.

Von Daniken’s idea, then, was racist and condescending. But it would sell more books than the competing probability (or certainty, as I see it) that ancient Peruvians were, gosh, smart enough to have etched the images without any help from space beings. If ancient Peruvians were that smart, then surely modern Guatemalans and Chiapanecos are smart enough to know that they have seen something unusual. People from many other countries in the Americas also insist that chupacabras exist.

Now very rare, if not fully extinct, they are credited with more mischief than they deserve. Believers in goatsuckers have in them an additional explanation for certain things that go wrong. When put to the test, goatsuckers remain elusive, and solutions emerge that would sell no books for von Daniken. An outbreak of goatsuckers was blamed for the deaths and/or disappearance of sheep from ranches in Sinaloa State, Mexico. The authorities put out traps and discovered that, in this case at least, goatsuckers were feral dogs. We need not doubt that ordinary predators are behind almost all attacks credited to goatsuckers.

But what of the goats and sheep that are found dead with their blood drained through a single puncture wound? Surely this is not the work of dogs, coyotes or minks. The kia, the world’s only predatory parrot, preys on sheep and could leave such a wound, but they live only in New Zealand. To be in Central America, the kias would need either to escape from a zoo or be beamed here via Kilroy’s transporter room. Nor can we rule out humans using arrows to slay their neighbor’s livestock. But these encounters normally leave shoe prints and other clues.

There are large vertebrates that we know of with extreme, asymmetric development of a single tooth (gross heterodonty). Any kid with a book on whales knows about the narwhal, which experiences the growth of one of his upper eyeteeth into a magnificent tusk more than half its body length. Perhaps the chupacabras have such an irregular dentition as well.

With their habitats threatened by logging, slash-and-burn agriculture and the expansion of villages into towns, any chupacabras that remain alive could soon be flushed out and placed in the taxonomy and also, we hope, in captivity rather than in a natural history museum. My guess is that they would be a species of dragon that survived into an era when humans lament, rather than pursue, the extinction of dragons and other creatures. And by dragons I mean any large and potentially dangerous, or dinosaur-like, creature that our ancestors considered a nuisance. They are the origin of hundreds of dragon legends in cultures throughout the world. But only the dragons of Komodo have escaped extermination by humans.

Unless, of course, the goatsuckers are also dragons, and there are any left. Perhaps only a single family or band remains, as many believe to be the fate of the “bigfoot” or sasquatch. In such a case, inbreeding may finish them off before angry ranchers do.
Maybe there is just one left. I hope my sons see it alive someday—from a safe distance.

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