The chupacabra has been called the Bigfoot of Latino culture, an urban legend said to drain the blood of goats and other farm animals from South America to south Texas. It’s name is Spanish for “goat sucker.” And like Bigfoot, the chupacabra also has eluded capture and provided no credible evidence that it exists.

Still, at least one citizen scientist sees the chupacabra as both a cultural phenomenon and a modern spin on the world’s most storied bloodsucker.

“It’s basically a vampire or a small, evil, fairy-type creature, which are popular archetypes in Latino culture,” said Ken Gerhard, a docent at the San Antonio Zoo and a widely recognized cryptozoologist.

Cryptozoology is the study and search for so-called “cryptids,” hidden animals whose existence defies scientific evidence or substantiation, such as Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, bizarre beasts that live on in alleged sightings and indecipherable photos and videos.

Gerhard has traveled the world in search of such “X-Files” fare, skeptical as Dana Scully yet still wanting to believe like Fox Mulder. “I’ve never found one yet,” Gerhard said. “But I still look.”

When it comes to chupacabras, Gerhard said they just aren’t the most credible cryptids. He noted there’s neither physical evidence a chupacabra exists nor any sort of biological reality or animal group that a chupacabra would fit in to.

“It’s almost a little bit too weird,” Gerhard said.

Yet more than 25 years since its first alleged sighting, Gerhard said the chupacabra remains a quirky cucuy or boogeyman that fits well into pop culture and especially Latin culture.

So much so that the San Antonio Zoo the zoo opened the first-ever chupacabra exhibit at a zoological facility in September. Located by the zoo’s bat habitat, a replica of the fabled creature greets patrons with a face full of fangs and a back full of quills.

“We’re excited to educate the public and our visitors about the elusive and legendary chupacabra,” San Antonio Zoo President and CEO Tim Morrow said in a statement at the time. “This new one-of-a-kind habitat is sure to spark both the imagination of what wildlife exists that we haven’t yet discovered and the desire to conserve species, both known and unknown.”

Just days after that zoo debut, an anonymous rancher on San Antonio’s South Side reportedly killed a strange creature that was stalking his livestock. His first guess: “Chupacabra!”Rob Coke, director of veterinary care at the San Antonio Zoo, reportedly looked at photos of the carcass and deemed it a coyote with mange.

Which is it? chupa-fact or chupa-fiction? Or maybe it’s both? Here’s what we know about the chupacabra. At least, what they want us to know.

A Puerto Rican export. The chupacabra, or “Venator nocturnus” according to the San Antonio Zoo exhibit, stalks most of South and Central America as well as northern Mexico and the southern United States. That is, according to reports of livestock deaths attributed to the creature.

The first chupacabra sightings date back to March 1995 in Puerto Rico, where reports circulated of several sheep found dead with puncture wounds in their chest and purportedly drained of their blood.

A comedian came up with the name. Puerto Rican comedian Silverio Pérez coined the term “chupacabra” in 1995 while discussing the creature’s attacks. The Spanish word literally translates to “goat-sucker,” as in “chupa” (“to suck”) and “cabra” (“goat”). The name comes from the creature’s purported habit of sucking the blood of goats and other livestock.

An urban legend with different legs. The chupacabra often is described as a hairless reptilian creature around 3 feet tall with gray-green skin and spines or quills down its back. But how it walks depends on where it’s spotted.

South and Central America sightings describe the chupacabra as a goblinlike humanoid that walks upright on two legs, while sightings in Mexico and the US describe the chupacabra as a canine or doglike creature that walks on all fours.

Gerhard was not involved in the chupacabra exhibit at the San Antonio Zoo, but said its canine-leaning depiction of the cryptid is “a wonderful synthesis” of the varying chupacabra descriptions.

H.R. Giger may have inspired the first description. The first eyewitness account of the chupacabra likens its appearance to Sil, a sinewy alien-human hybrid with spines down her back in the 1995 sci-fi horror film, “Species.” Sil was designed by H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist famous for the title terror of the “Alien” films.

In August 1995, Madelyne Tolentino in Puerto Rico alleged she saw a chupacabra in the municipality of Canóvanas. Researcher and skeptic Benjamin Radford interviewed Tolentino for his 2011 book, “Tracking the Chupacabra.” He concluded her description was based on the creature from “Species,” which Tolentino had seen just the week before her report.

Gerhard believes the internet popularized Tolentino’s description and variations spun from there.

Then again, it’s likely a mangy coyote. As Coke with the San Antonio Zoo noted, most chupacabra sightings in Mexico and the United States are debunked as coyotes with severe mange. Likewise, stray Mexican hairless dogs get mistaken for chupacabras.

Gerhard has examined half a dozen animal carcasses referred to as chupacabras. He said DNA testing and bone and skull analysis revealed all of them were dogs or coyotes with some sort of mange or genetic deformity.

They don’t really suck blood, either. Dead livestock attributed to chupacabra attacks may bear puncture wounds, but those holes tend to correspond to bites made by canine teeth. There also are no reported autopsies that confirm the dead animals were drained of their blood.

So why do so many accounts mention bloodless victims? Gerhard noted when an animal dies, its body goes into rigor mortis and its blood drains to the lowest part of the body where it coagulates. This gives the carcass a gaunt, drained appearance.

A ufologist put San Antonio on the map for chupacabra investigation. Horror writer and San Antonio native Whitley Strieber is perhaps best known for “Communion,” his 1987 account of alleged experiences with aliens. But Gerhard noted Strieber also was instrumental in a chupacabra investigation.

In 2004, a rancher killed and buried the so-called “Elmendorf Beast,” an alleged chupacabra blamed for livestock attacks in South Bexar County. Strieber had the animal exhumed for analysis at the San Antonio Zoo. Later DNA analysis at the University of California, Davis concluded it was a coyote with mange.

Barely a blip on TV series. Guess Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster get all the plumb roles. About the only major TV series time dedicated to the chupacabra is a 1997 monster-of-the-week episode of “The X-Files” and a 2014 episode of “Grimm.”

But oh what a TV movie. Eat your heart out, “Sharknado.” In the 2013 TV movie “Chupacabra vs. The Alamo,” Erik Estrada plays Carlos Seguin, a tough DEA agent who discovers a that bunch of doglike chupacabras have been making mincemeat of drug cartel members. Seguin and his band of desperate heroes make a last stand against the mythical blood-hounds at, of course, the Alamo.

rguzman@express-news.net | Twitter: @reneguz

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