- By Claire Osborn American-Statesman Staff
The first thing that emerged was a paw. Then a head with large fangs appeared.
The creature that Philip Oliveira had frozen in a plastic garbage bag was curled into a ball. Its back legs were longer than its front legs, and the only fur it had was a smooth stripe of brown along its back and some on its tail.
“It’s too big for a coyote,” said Oliveira, a landscaper with a biology degree from Texas Christian University.
“It’s a chupacabra,” said Rocky Howe and Richard Cook, two friends who helped Oliveira find the animal May 31 on his Rockdale farm.
No way, said biologists with Texas State University and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“It’s a coyote with mange,” said Jonah Evans, a mammologist with the wildlife department who has seen photos of the animal Oliveira found.
“Most TPWD biologists have seen hundreds of similar photos, and there is no doubt about what it is,” Evans said.
The chupacabra is a mythical animal whose name means “goat sucker” for its reputation of sucking the blood out of small animals. Evans said he receives reports of people seeing a chupacabra about twice a year, and “every report so far has been either a coyote or raccoon with mange.”
Evans said chupacabra sightings are a “relatively new phenomenon.” The first was in 1995 from a woman in Puerto Rico who had recently seen the science fiction horror film “Species,” Evans said. The first Texas report was in 2004, and a report from Cuero in South Texas in 2007 received global attention, he said.
“The likelihood of discovering an unknown, large, hairless carnivore living undetected amongst people that looks exactly like a common species with mange are so astronomically small that it is difficult to justify spending valuable staff time and resources investigating and conducting DNA testing,” Evans said.
“People want to believe these things are out there,” said Randy Simpson, director of the undergraduate wildlife biology program at Texas State University. “It adds a little excitement.”
Simpson agreed with Evans that the animal Oliveira found was a coyote with mange, which is caused by a mite that leads animals to lose their hair. People are used to seeing animals with their fur, Simpson said, so when they see them without it, “it looks strange.”
Oliveira said he and Howe found the dead animal by a creek on his Rockdale land after he heard his dogs barking “like I had never heard them bark.” Rockdale is about 45 miles northeast of Round Rock.
“When I got a good look at it, I was weirded out,” Oliveira said. “I’ve spent a lot of time camping and fishing, and I’ve been outside my whole life and never even seen an animal that looked like that.”
Oliveira said he doesn’t believe the animal had mange because it didn’t have scabs on its skin. He decided to freeze the critter in a cooler on his back porch until it could be identified.
Howe recently sent pictures of the animal to Ben Radford, deputy editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer.
Radford said Thursday in a phone interview that, after looking at the photos, he decided the animal was a coyote with sarcoptic mange. One of the symptoms of the disease is that an animal loses most of its hair except for a band along its back where it cannot scratch, said Radford, who has written a book called “Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore.”
Getting a genetic test would be the easiest way to clear up what the animal is on the Rockdale farm, Radford said.
Oliveira said Thursday he will send a DNA sample of the animal to a lab to be tested.