The Legend of Wise County’s Chupacabra

In May 2010, Runaway Bay officials named the chupacabra the city’s official mascot four months after the rumored creature was discovered on hole No. 14 at The Club at Runaway Bay.

The body was tan, earth-colored and hairless with oversized canines and a squished face like a vampire bat. It had long and slender padded feet with nearly inch-long toes, almost like fingers, tapered with sharp, curved claws, like a raccoon. The creature’s hind legs appeared elongated and large, like a kangaroo’s. It was approximately 16 inches in length with a possum-like tail.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist has since labeled the mysterious creature a hairless raccoon.

The discovery by a course groundskeeper in January brought media attention to the city from news outlets around the country and world and prompted the creation of T-shirts, stickers and other merchandise featuring the animal.

Chupacabra is Spanish for “goat sucker.” The creature is infamous for sucking the blood from livestock. There have been many sightings of the mysterious creature throughout Texas during the past few years. The legend was first reported in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s and has since spread throughout Latino communities.

Below are the original stories and follow-up stories to the Chupacabra…

Mystery on the 14th hole

By Brandon Evans | Published Thursday, January 21, 2010

What do you a call a cross between a coyote, a possum, a raccoon and a vampire bat?

El chupacabra.

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Golf Digest recently voted the course at The Club at Runaway Bay one of the top courses in the nation, but it might also become the stomping ground for monster hunters.

Last Wednesday, Tony Potter of Runaway Bay discovered what he is calling the mythical “chupacabra” on the golf course alongside Lake Bridgeport.

Potter, a groundskeeper at the course, found the lifeless body of the strange creature.

“I found it on hole 14,” Potter said. “It was something with no hair. At first I figured it was a dog.”

The tan, earth-colored creature is hairless with oversized canines and a squished face like a vampire bat. It has long and slender padded feet with nearly inch-long toes, almost like fingers, tapered with sharp, curved claws, like a raccoon. The creature’s hind legs appear elongated and large, like a kangaroo’s. It is approximately 16 inches in length with a possum-like tail.

After further inspection, Potter concluded it was not a dog.

“This is a weird little critter,” Potter said. “This is not a coyote. This is not a dog.”

He considered that it might be a hairless raccoon. He immediately showed the finding to Runaway Bay mayor Lynn Jowett. Jowett has a degree in biology.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Jowett said. “I’d never seen anything like that. It was totally hairless.

“I certainly didn’t know what the animal was. It’s skin was real smooth. Rigamortis hadn’t set in.”

Jowett suggested Potter have a veterinarian take a look at it. So the next day he took it to Bridgeport Animal Hospital. But it only left the doctors perplexed.

“It was cold and limp when we saw it,” said Dr. Heidi Shipp. “But it had no wounds, no trauma. I don’t know how it died, but maybe from the freeze since it had no fur.”

She had no clue what the creature was.

“It’s not a cat; it’s not a dog,” Shipp said. “It’s not any kind of domestic animal that I’m aware of. It looked like a combination of a coatimundi, a raccoon and a possum.”

Chupacabra is Spanish for “goat sucker.” The creature is infamous for sucking the blood from livestock. There have been many sightings of the mysterious creature throughout Texas during the past few years. The legend was first reported in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s, and has since spread throughout Latino communities.

People have attempted to debunk the creature, saying it is a coyote or some other animal with a severe case of mange, but Shipp said it had no signs of mange.

“I don’t think it had mange because the skin was not irritated at all,” she said. “It’s some sort of mystery. It could be the chupacabra.”

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Nature of the beast

Some have suggested the animal is nothing more than a Mexican hairless dog, also called a Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo for short. The Xolo is one of the oldest purebreed dogs, dating back more than 3,500 years. The Aztecs, Mayans and other ancient New World civilizations considered the animal sacred. It is a rare breed today.

Patty Hoover of Washington State has been breeding Xolos for 20 years. She has owned more than 165 championship Xolos. After examining several photographs of the animal found in Runaway Bay, she said the animal does not appear to be a Xolo.

“I see a few premolars there,” she said. “Hairless Xolos seldom have premolars. There have been several ‘finds’ in the past few years of hairless animals that resemble Xolos. I suspect there might be coyote/Xolo hybrids running in (rural) areas.

“The head shape looks like a coyote to me, and the impressive canines could be mature coyote canines.”

However, the animal did not appear to be mature yet.

Ken Gerhard of San Antonio is a cryptozoologist, someone who investigates and studies mysterious animals. He’s been featured on History Channel’s “The Real Wolfman” and “Monster Quest” and the Travel Channel’s “Legend Hunters.”

Gerhard specializes in mysterious Texas creatures. He’s followed the trail of the chupacabra for years. He is currently working on a special about the creature with the National Geographic Channel.

He said there has been a rise in the number of sightings of these creatures. He has examined the remains of three of these animals in recent months. However, as far as he knows, none have been captured alive.

“They are definitely reproducing at a rapid rate,” Gerhard said. “Over the past three months, there has been a flurry of sightings. But they were all in Southern and Central Texas. This is the furthest one north I have heard of.”

He’s actually stopped referring to them as chupacabra. He believes it’s an entirely new species of animal. He calls them “Texas blue dogs” because they have a bluish tint to their flesh.

He’s heard the explanation that they are merely coyotes with mange, but like the vet who examined the body, he said the animals don’t look like they have suffered mange, especially a young specimen such as the one found in Runaway Bay.

Gerhard is not sure of the origin of the Texas blue dogs.

“It could be a genetic mutation of some animal,” Gerhard said. “It could be an animal that has changed in response to some sort of environmental pollution. We just don’t know.”

Despite the odd, chimera-like features of the creature, it might only be a hairless raccoon.

Potter didn’t know what to do with the animal, so on Sunday night the animal was transported to the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) in Bridgeport.

From there, photographs of the creature were sent to university researchers and veterinarians across the country. But none of them could identify the animal. The story appeared Sunday on the Messenger Web site. This prompted television news crews to cover the story. It soon went nationwide.

By Monday night, Heidi Berry, executive director at CARE, had received hundreds of e-mails offering answers to the mystery, including one from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife commission.

In 2007, a very similar creature was discovered alive in Kentucky. The University of Kentucky diagnostic laboratory researched the animal.

“After much research and tips, the researchers at (CARE) have found the following answer,” Berry said. “Even though it is in front of our eyes, it is hard to believe this thing could possibly be a hairless raccoon.”

This is the same conclusion drawn by some of the first people to see the creature in Runaway Bay.

However, until a DNA test is conducted, it’s impossible to prove. And why would there be a rash of hairless raccoons appearing across the state of Texas?

Gerhard still believes it is a canine of some type. So did the local game warden, initially.

Wise County game warden Penny Nixon said these types of animals have been found in the past, and they “are generally always coyotes.”

“We don’t know if it is a genetic anomaly or caused by an outside factor,” Nixon said.

A biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department examined the carcass Tuesday morning at the U.S. Forest Service in Decatur. She said it wasn’t a coyote.

“I didn’t expect to have the body of a chupacabra on my desk today,” said wildlife biologist Jennifer Barrow.

But Barrow quickly debunked the possible presence of the mythical creature. She said the feet, skull and dental formation all matched a raccoon.

“Every genus has one dental formation,” Barrow said, “the same number and types of teeth.”

She said the Runaway Bay specimen matched perfectly.

She couldn’t say how the animal lost its hair, since it did not appear to have the mange.

“It’s an anomaly,” she said. “The chupacabra is a fun legend, but it is only a legend, right up there with sasquatch.”

Creatures on the rise

A mystery still persists. Such hairless creatures, even if only a raccoon, continue to be frequently spotted. This is not the only account of hairless animals living in Wise County.

Rodney Davis owns an 80-acre tree farm in Alvord. His wide swath of rural, tree-covered land is adjacent to the LBJ Grasslands. It provides ample ground for mysterious creatures to roam.

“A few of us have gotten a good look at it,” Davis said. “At first I thought it was just a coyote with mange.”

But once he saw the photos posted on the Messenger Web site, he knew it was the same type of creature, and he no longer thought it was a coyote with mange.

“A couple months ago we were seeing it in the morning and in the evening time,” Davis said. “We saw it several times over a couple of weeks, but we haven’t seen it since.”

Once his son saw it lapping water from a pond on the property. The creature looked his son in the eyes and casually trotted off. Another time, Davis and some of his Latino workers saw the animal on top of a hill. He also said one of his neighbors has had several chickens disappear, which falls in line with the chupacabra legend.

“They had me pretty convinced it was the chupacabra,” Davis said.

Once he saw the creature running. He said the creature he saw had a larger snout than the one found in Runaway Bay.

Gerhard said he has personally examined three Texas blue dogs. He said each one has slightly different characteristics, such as various sized haunches, teeth and snouts.

The creature is very elusive. Davis went so far as setting up motion cameras at areas where they had seen the animal, but he never captured any images.

Although conclusions vary, numbers are on the rise, and the range is growing of the strange hairless animals.

Chupacabra named city mascot

By Mandy Bourgeois | Published Sunday, May 23, 2010

Four months have passed since a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist labeled the mysterious creature found on hole No. 14 at The Club at Runaway Bay a hairless raccoon.

The animal was rumored to be el chupacabra, a creature famous in Latin lore for sucking the blood of livestock. The discovery in January brought media attention to the city from news outlets around the country and world.

But the legend of the chupacabra lives on. On Tuesday, the Runaway Bay city council named the chupacabra the city’s official mascot.

“We thought it might be a great idea to look out for its best interest – they felt concerned about its welfare and want it to have a safe haven,” said City Administrator Greg Leveling. “Some places have Big Foot, other places have the abominable snowman. If you come to Runaway Bay, chances are that you are going to run into the dreaded, legendary chupacabra.”

The city council hopes the move will cause people to chuckle, and possibly increase tourism and ultimately business in the city.

“Some people don’t know where Runaway Bay is,” said mayor pro tem Jerry St. John. “Some think it’s in Jamaica.”

St. John brought the item to the council after a citizen suggested the chupacabra be used as a promotional mascot for the city.

T-shirts made immediately after the discovery featuring the chupacabra continue to sell, St. John said. With the chupacabra serving as official mascot, the city has ordered shirts and window stickers featuring the animal for Fourth Fest on Saturday, July 3.

“With all the things going on in the world, all the negative, it might be nice to have a little fun,” St. John said.

Leveling agrees that the chupacabra gives people a reason to smile.

“With all the drab, dreary and sad things going on the world, we thought it would be nice to have a little laugh,” Leveling said. “It was an opportunity to take a breath and take a break.”

But St. John stresses that there is more than laughter behind the mascot.

“(The city council) takes seriously our responsibility. We’re not making light of our job,” he said. “I feel this will bring a little attention to Runaway Bay. It’s time to make something happen. Our plans are to encourage development.”

With his plans for the creature to become a fixture of the city, St. John is mum on whether he believes in the chupacabra.

“Is there one?” he asks, pointing to the creature on the front of his shirt. “I don’t know.”

Monster takes county, nation by storm

By Brandon Evans | Published Sunday, January 24, 2010

Last Sunday morning I was staring at my computer monitor in the Messenger office when the telephone rang.
“Hello,” I said casually since it wasn’t regular office hours.
“Is this the Messenger?” a man asked.
“Is a reporter there?”
“Sure, I can help you.”
I listened to a short but unbelievable spiel about an incredible creature found at a local golf course.
“Is this a joke?”

He assured me it was not. He gave me directions to his condo in Runaway Bay. He told me he’d be around most of the day watching the Cowboy game. Joe Duty and I hopped into his black sports utility vehicle. An innumerable amount of camera equipment jostled around in the back. We had little faith that this report would be anything of interest.

Fortunately, what we found, unlike the Dallas Cowboy game, wasn’t a flop performance.

Tony Potter’s condo faces the shimmering water of Lake Bridgeport. He popped open a cooler sitting in his front yard. He pulled gloves over his hands and pulled the strangest thing out of a black garbage sack. He laid it on a bed of dried, brown oak leaves.

“I’m calling it a chupacabra,” he said.

Potter told me where and how he found this thing. He said that nobody, not even veterinarians, had been able to identify it. Joe snapped some images, and we posted text and photos on the Messenger Web site. Potter said he would probably toss the beast into the woods later if nobody claimed it.

Later that day, I contacted a friend who works at the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE), aka the Tiger Farm, in Bridgeport. She told me CARE had a freezer to store the creature and experts to consult.

Well after sunset, we wound along dark roads through shadows and starlight to retrieve the alleged goat sucker. The body was placed in the back seat. On the ride back to the Tiger Farm, I kept imagining the cooler popping open and fish hook fangs sinking into my neck. But all remained quiet. However, the next day pandemonium ensued.

First thing Monday morning, a host of news media began calling the office. They wanted to use Joe’s photographs; they wanted contact information. Television stations from Minneapolis to Memphis ran the story. Most gave us credit, but the super-sensational tabloid Weekly World News ran Joe’s photos and rewrote my words from the online Update with no credit given.

The “breaking news” info on our Web site on the “chupacabra” received almost 10,000 hits in a couple of days. Less than a thousand is normal, except when catastrophes strike.

By Tuesday, a store in Bridgeport was sold out of T-shirts dedicated to the chupacabra of Runaway Bay. Ink ‘n’ Stitch was soon selling the shirts via eBay to customers as far flung as New York and London.

By Thursday, reported that “chupacabra” was the second most searched term of the day. Throughout the county, region and apparently the world, the Wise County chupacabra discovered by Potter gained serious buzz.

This continued after a state wildlife biologist confirmed Tuesday morning in Decatur that the creature was only a hairless raccoon.

Who would of thought that the furthest reaching story of my young journalistic career would revolve around a hairless raccoon found on a golf course?

Out of all the remarkable and well thought-out photographs captured by Joe, why did this simple point and click of a freakish animal lying in a front lawn reach a worldwide audience?

Many people still refuse to believe the wildlife biologist’s assessment. They want to believe it is something more.

From Native American folklore to the mythologies of ancient Greece, Rome and Scandinavia, countless heroes, gods and monsters helped explain the place of people in the world and how the natural world operates.

Although science has replaced most of the old legends, there is something inside of us that wants to believe in something magical and mythical. Maybe the excitement around this poor hairless anomaly was that it gave us a chance to believe in the incredible, if only for a moment, before science shattered our mirage.

Runaway Bay, embrace your new mascot

By Brian Knox | Published Sunday, May 23, 2010

Love it or hate it, the chupacabra is now forever linked with Runaway Bay.

On Tuesday, the city council made it the official town mascot. The goal is to bring more attention to the city.

Personally, I think it’s great. But I have a soft spot for creatures some may believe are “mythical.” I grew up in a town that proudly cheered for the Wampus Cats every Friday night in the fall (and twice a week in the winter and spring).

Some of the locals may roll their eyes at the thought of their beautiful town being associated with Joe Duty’s photo of a rather ugly, hairless (and quite dead) creature found on hole 14 of the golf course.

But I can tell you from personal experience that having a unique creature attached to your town can have its advantages. When I tell people I grew up in Itasca, more can identify the school (and town’s) mascot than, well, anything else about my small home town which actually has about the same population as Runaway Bay.

And while I still usually have to explain where Itasca is (half-way between Fort Worth and Waco, just north of Hillsboro is my usual refrain), Runaway Bay has the added bonus of a name that already associates it with a recognizable landmark – Lake Bridgeport.

Itasca, as one story goes, was named after Lake Itasca in Minnesota, but you won’t find any large water source within the city limits of Wampus Cat town, but I digress.

Runaway Bay already has one advantage over my hometown in the mascot department – while many Itascans have claimed to have “spotted” a Wampus Cat, I’ve never actually seen any photographic proof of the creature. That has led to several different artistic representations, none of which are exactly the same, of course. Runaway Bay residents have that photographic proof, even if it isn’t the most appealing-looking critter.

So citizens of Runaway Bay, be prepared for the expected jokes. But also study up on the chupacabra legend. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked me, “So what exactly is a Wampus Cat?”

And as a bonus, people will scoop up merchandise bearing the image of your mythical creature. It just takes a little creativity. We came up with one marketing idea at our weekly staff meeting: The Chew-pacabra cookie cutter set – makes delicious treats for parties or festive holiday get-togethers by the lake. For added effect, serve on a green plate with a “Hole 14” flag sticking up in the middle.

How about it readers – any other suggestions?