'Goat Sucker' Spreading Fear Across Mexico

May 12, 1996 (Dudley Althaus / Houston Chronicle) - ZAPOTAL, Mexico -- The roosters had not yet crowed when the fierce barking of neighborhood dogs jolted Violeta Colorado from her sleep. The dogs had some animal cornered at the rubbish pile behind Colorado's small concrete house in Zapotal, a farm village in the steamy oil country of southeastern Mexico.

When the canines growled, shuffled and lunged early last Thursday, Colorado says, the besieged beast responded with a nerve-rattling hiss unlike any animal noise she had ever heard. It was a full hour, she says, before the beast escaped the dogs and peace returned to the country night.

"The dogs were pursuing it. They had it trapped, but we couldn't see what it was," the 27-year-old mother of two toddlers says. "I thought it was a coyote. There are a lot of coyotes around here."

But in the light of the early morning sun, Colorado learned that nine sheep had been killed in the pasture next to her house. None of the sheep had been eaten. Their throats had been punctured and their blood drained.

To their horror, she says, Colorado and her neighbors realized that the dogs had tangled with a chupacabras, a goat sucker, the much-feared yet never-seen beast that has been stalking the Mexican countryside for nearly two weeks now, killing farm animals and spreading terror.

Local reporters arrived in droves. Busloads of the curious trundled down the dirt lane to Colorado's house and the pasture. Several of the dead sheep were carried off to the state capital of Villahermosa 30 miles away for further examination.

Colorado shakes her head at the thought of a chupacabras, wearing the wan smile and world-weary expression of someone who has survived a close brush with the infernal. A coyote never kills the way these sheep were killed, says the local veterinarian who examined two of the dead sheep. The coyotes and jungle cats in the area devour their prey, rip it apart. These dead sheep had only puncture wounds.

And there was no blood left in them, no blood at all.

"I have never seen anything like it, ever," says Ramiro Santiago Lara, 34, who has practiced veterinary medicine in the area near Zapotal for eight years and in that time has examined hundreds of animals killed by ordinary predators. "It seems like a type of vampire."

After appearing in Puerto Rico last summer and then passing through Miami, the chupacabras --pronounced chew-paw-CAH-bras --reportedly surfaced in Mexico 11 days ago in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Since then, the beast, or, possibly, a horde of them, apparently has been moving fast and taking no prisoners. At least 46 attacks have been reported so far in 14 states across the country, according to a tally published Sunday by the Mexico City newspaper El Financiero. More than 300 goats and sheep have been slain, as well as several horses and calves.

Four people also have reported being attacked. But one of them, a married woman from northern Sinaloa state, has been publicly accused of trying to pass off a hickey given her by an illicit lover as the work of the goat sucker.

News of, and speculation about, the creature fills the pages of local newspapers and dominates the airwaves. Thousands of notes appear on Internet homepages dedicated to the chupacabras.

Cocktail party conversation in Mexico City focuses on almost nothing else. Goat sucker jokes are the rage. But the subject is not funny to the goats and the sheep -- or to the mostly poor farmers who own them.

"This is definitely a serious matter, one that we have never dealt with before but which is very real,"says Enoc Leon Ramirez, 48, the owner of the sheep killed in Zapotal. "The government is trying to say this was the work of a coyotes. That is a lie. The only explanation is that it was this beast they are talking about, this chupacabras."

Leon says he has lived in Zapotal his entire life and has never heard of sheep killed the way his died last Thursday.

Everyone, of course, has a favorite theory. Some believe the beast is Mexico's latest national myth, its version of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster, or a simple case of mass illusion.

Others think that perhaps the goat sucker comes from outer space or is the mutant progeny created in some mad gene-splicing scheme.

And then still others opine that the creature is part of a plot against Mexico launched for some unknown and evil purpose.

"It's from the neighboring country," says Andres Magana, a peasant farmer in La Venta, a town about 40 miles north of Zapotal. "Neighbor country" never refers to Guatemala or Belize in Mexican conversation. It always means the United States, and it usually means trouble.

Local, state and federal officials, as well as scientific "experts", have been busily trying to debunk the chupacabras lore. They say the attacks are the work of common predators such as coyotes and pumas, magnified by the imaginations of simple country folk and hyped by the sensationalist media.

But what government officials say carries little weight with most Mexicans these days. These are the same officials who have been claiming for the past 18 months that Mexico's economy is improving when nearly everyone suspects it is actually getting worse.

If the government says the sky's blue, many believe, it must be green.

"The authorities are hiding something," says Santiago, adding that state investigators in Villahermosa have refused to release findings from their examination of one of the dead sheep.

In the many artists' renditions of the beast published in the Mexican media, the chupacabras looks like anything from Hollywood's E.T. on a bad-hair day to former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari posing as Dracula.

Salinas, who left office 18 months ago, is almost universally blamed for the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He is Mexico's bogeyman of choice, who single-handedly sucked the life out of the whole country.

In one political cartoon published Sunday, a vampirelike Salinas commands a hapless peasant: "Tell that goat sucker not to be messing on my turf."

But such cleaver political imagery may well be lost on those who believe they have felt the chupacabras' bite.

"As farmers, we are not interested in the politics and the jokes," says Leon, who lost his entire flock in the Zapotal attack. "There has to be something to this."

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From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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