Folks in Wise County have wondered for the past week if they’ve captured the legendary chupacabra — that mythical creature of south-of-the-border lore known to suck the blood from the livestock it attacks.
A small, hairless animal was found dead Jan. 13 by a maintenance worker at Runaway Bay Golf Course near Lake Bridgeport.
A state biologist who examined it on Tuesday assured that the animal was a male raccoon, probably no more than a few months old.
How it lost its hair, however, was still a mystery on Wednesday.
“It was a raccoon, no doubt about it,” said Jennifer Barrow, the biologist. “It’s feet were a real giveaway. It had long toes, narrow feet … everything right for a raccoon.”
But Barrow, who works for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, didn’t stop there.
She compared the shape of its head to a bleached raccoon skull, and they matched. The animal’s “dental formula” also was similar to that of a raccoon, she said.
Nevertheless, news of the Wise County creature became a media sensation across Texas and beyond. Plug the word “chupacabra” into a search engine and the story will appear on tons of Web sites
Texas, it seems, already was the epicenter for “chupe” sightings in recent years.
In 2004, the hairless, dog-like “Elmendorf Beast” was spotted near San Antonio, soon followed by two more sightings in the same area.
There was another sighting a year later near Coleman and then, in 2007, a batch of them were seen or killed near Cuero in DeWitt County.
Tests performed on some of the carcasses indicated that the animals were coyotes infected with sarcoptic mange, a scabby skin malady that can rid an animal of its hair.
But Wise County’s hairless raccoon was healthy, leaving Barrow to speculate how it lost its coat.
“He didn’t appear to be sick — except that he was dead,” she said. “But he wasn’t skinny. It had real smooth skin.
“There were no signs of mange.”
She said the raccoon closely resembled one that was captured alive about three years ago in Kentucky.
It was examined by officials from that state’s fish and wildlife department, and it had no signs mange or other diseases.
Kentucky officials speculated it had an abnormal skin condition.
Barrow said the Wise County raccoon may have been born that way, too, but she offered another theory.
She said it may have fallen into nearby Lake Bridgeport during freezing weather, killing it. The cold water also preserved him, Barrow suggested.
And, after an extended period, the cold water caused him to drop his hair.
“The water actually takes the hair off,” she said, although she couldn’t explain how.
But, Barrow added, “A fellow I worked with said he once observed a dead calf, half in water. The half that was in the water didn’t have any hair and the part out of the water had hair.”
Barrow said she has been hearing about chupacabras since she became a biologist in the 1990s, “but it was usually just for a joke.”
“I guess,” she concluded, “the legend has been perpetrated again — at least for a little while.”
Fort Worth Star Telegram