Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore
By Benjamin Radford. 2011. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8263-5015-2 (hard cover).
Reviewed by Virginia S. Fugarino, Dept of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.
[Review length: 1027 words • Review posted on September 28, 2011]
Benjamin Radford’s work, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore, sets out to present an in-depth analysis of the elusive “goat sucker” in order to determine the plausibility of its existence. To date, few books have been dedicated to taking a serious look at this creature, and Radford puts forth a well-researched and approachable study that seeks to fill this gap. Radford’s research spans five years and includes a variety of approaches, such as an analysis of news media surrounding chupacabra reports, a survey of popular culture items either influenced by or potentially influencing chupacabra stories, discussions of interview material, and Radford’s own travels to Nicaragua to search for the creature.
The book is split into four parts that explore different aspects of his study. Part I provides a concise historical overview of chupacabra reports, ranging from Puerto Rico (the location of the original report) to Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and the United States. This section also includes some of the theories about the creature’s origins, ranging from the belief that the chupacabra is the result of governmental conspiracies to the belief that chupacabras are simply familiar predators. At the core of Radford’s chupacabra mystery, however, is the aspect of the reports that state that the animal sucks the blood out of its victims. To Radford, it is the vampiric element of the chupacabra that is key to investigating its existence.
Radford continues with an examination of vampirism and the chupacabra into Part II of the book, which explores how the chupacabra fits into both vampire tradition and into popular culture. The first chapter of Part II provides a brief overview of vampire tradition across various cultures, focusing specifically on the characteristics that vampires “[drain] blood, energy, or other bodily substance though physical contact” and that they are “blamed for unexpected deaths or unexplained misfortune” (24). Radford goes on to argue that the chupacabra is a uniquely Hispanic vampire arising from the particular social and cultural environment of the region. He particularly explores how the chupacabra and other Latin American vampiric creatures can be seen to represent metaphorically postcolonial concerns and resentment of intrusion from outside political forces, specifically the U.S. government.
The second chapter of Part II deals with the variety of ways the chupacabra has made its way into popular culture. Radford begins with an analysis of tabloid and news media coverage of the creature, coverage that aided in the spread of chupacabra stories. He also discusses how the chupacabra has surfaced in other popular media, including film, literature, and exhibitions at fairs and museums. This chapter is particularly interesting in that it provides an array of examples of how the chupacabra, a relatively recent monster, has become internationally known.
Part III details Radford’s investigation of physical evidence and witness reports for the chupacabra’s existence, beginning with his own expedition to Nicaragua to search for evidence of the creature. In this chapter, Radford explores the jungles for tracks and speaks to locals about their perspectives on the monster. Written almost like a travel log, this chapter describes Radford’s search in an engaging way, even though the expedition turns up no positive evidence for the creature. The next two chapters focus on the best-known chupacabra incidents. As Radford states, “[since] the vast majority of chupacabra reports leave little or no physical trace, these cases represent the best hard evidence for the mysterious creatures” (75). By investigating these reports closely, Radford discusses how the reports tend not to follow a consistent pattern and, in the cases in which the body of the alleged creature has been recovered, it has been shown to be a much more familiar animal, such as a dog or coyote. Additionally, Radford looks at how the reports of animals being drained of blood frequently are not fully investigated and that other plausible explanations exist for animals appearing to be sucked dry.
The final part of the book contains a reexamination of the “original sighting” of the chupacabra by Madelyne Tolentino of Puerto Rico to seek the origin of the chupacabra mystery. By examining Tolentino’s statements and other eyewitness reports, Radford proposes a link between these reports and the popular movie, Species, which ran in theatres prior to Tolentino’s sighting. He explores the similarities between her report and the alien creature central to the film, proposing that the film, which she did see before her sighting, influenced what she believes she saw of the chupacabra. Radford also includes in the chapter a discussion of other sightings and reports to cast doubt upon the existence of the creature.
Radford’s final chapter takes a closer look at the vampirism claims of chupacabra reports. He looks at the injuries inflicted upon the prey and the biological structures that would need to be in place for the alleged chupacabras to suck blood from their victims. He goes into further detail about how animals can appear to be drained of blood, and uses the insights of wildlife experts to propose explanations for the predation blamed on chupacabras. Radford finds nothing in his research to support the plausibility of the chupacabra claims. Instead, he notes that “[perhaps] one of the most remarkable aspects of the chupacabra is the notoriety it gained during the last fifteen years despite a lack of good evidence” (170).
Overall, Radford’s book is an engaging study. Although at times he takes a dismissive tone toward individuals who believe in the creature, his prose is clear and well presented. The use of pictures and diagrams throughout the book enriches the discussion and helps to clarify some of his points, especially when he is examining the attacks on the livestock. This book offers a serious study of the phenomenon of the chupacabra, and it will be interesting to see if other researchers follow in his path. Researchers interested in issues of belief may find avenues of study to follow from Radford’s research. Radford states near the close of his book: “There is nothing left to explain, no place left for any mystery to hide. The beast is gone—in fact never was—but the myth will continue” (177). One wonders whether believers may attempt to counter his claims.