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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"


by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Does a zoologically unknown, blood-sucking creature prowl the South Texas mesquite?

Lacking a pedigree and being a long way from official acceptance, it does have a name: Chupacabra. That’s a combination of two Spanish words, the verb “chupar,” which means to suck and the noun “cabra,” for goat.

No one so far has suggested that chupacabras have gone vampire to the extent of attacking humans, but they are reputed to be mighty fond of goats, smaller animals and chickens.

Her desire for yard eggs is what propelled Phylis Canion into the zoological Twilight Zone. Not long after moving to DeWitt County from Africa, where her husband Steve had worked four years for an oil company, Canion bought some chickens to range the home pasture of their ranch outside Cuero.

You have to break an egg to make an omelet, but Canion wasn’t even getting any eggs. Her chickens started disappearing. Assuming bobcats or coyotes to be the culprits, she set up a video surveillance camera to identify the chicken thief.

She did catch a chicken-swiping bobcat on video and eventually shot one she thought might have been the guilty party. But then she found a dead chicken that appeared to have been sucked dry of blood. Knowing that bobcats and coyotes take their chicken dinners to go, not leaving meat behind, she began wondering what was going on.

Something went on to exsanguinate 26 of her chickens. Canion’s brother suggested she might have a chupacabra afoot, but she did not take that seriously even though she and her sister had both seen an animal on the ranch they could not identify.

Nothing else showed up on her video monitoring system, but one morning last summer a neighbor called about 7:45 and said he had seen an unusual looking road kill near her ranch, which is just off U.S. 183 south of Cuero. Five minutes later she stared at a creature like nothing she had ever seen before. She returned to her ranch and got a tractor with a front end loader to carry the carrion to her place for further examination.

She laid the animal, which weighed about 40 pounds, on a feed sack and photographed it. Then she skinned it, keeping its grayish-blue hide and head. It had big ears, blue eyes, a long snout, two canine incisors and two worn lower incisors – but no other teeth. Unable to chew, it could have gotten by sucking blood through wounds made by its incisors.

The animal also had no hair, except for short, mane-like tufts along its spine. Its hind legs were longer than its front legs, and the paws on the back feet were different from the front paws. No one who has seen the frozen head questions that it looks strange. Definitely dog-like, but different as well. Two other similar creatures were found dead in the area within four days, though no one else kept them.

The local Parks and Wildlife Department game warden sent a picture of the head to headquarters in Austin, but Canion has not heard anything back.

Game Warden Mike Bradshaw, stationed for more than 30 years deep in the South Texas brush country at Carrizo Springs has heard plenty of chupacabra stories, but he’s never seen one.

Nor has he seen the animal found near Cuero. Even so, he has a theory.

“I’d put my money on it being a mangy coyote,” he said.

Canion still awaits the test results of a tissue sample sent for analysis to Texas State University in San Marcos. Similar testing on a weird-looking creature found by a rancher near San Antonio in 2004 – the media dubbed it the Elmendorf Beast – came back showing it was a coyote with mange.

No matter the animal’s DNA, its unusual appearance places it in another zoological category as far as Canion is concerned. Chupacabras and all other unknown or mythical animals are known as cryptids, and the study of them is called cryptozoology.

And chupacabras are third on the top three listing of mythical creatures, behind Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster, in that order. Theories range from chupacabras being an unknown species that has moved into Texas from South America to a mangy coyote to some form of hybrid.

Canion says she intends to have a taxidermist mount the strange head and put a stuffed chicken in its mouth. The trophy will join the mounted elk, whitetail, bobcat and zebra in their paneled den.

Whatever the hairless creature is, it has stimulated the local economy a bit and given Cuero international name recognition. The initial Associated Press story on the critter got worldwide play, all the major broadcast and cable networks have done stories, and the Discovery Channel has filmed two segments on the mysterious animal. The Canions agreed to display the head at the annual Cuero Turkey Fest and it drew quite a crowd.

Though Canion and her husband have sold more than 9,000 blue-on-gray t-shirts that read “2007 The Summer of the Chupacabra Cuero, Texas” for $5 each, she bristles at the suggestion that she’s out to make money off the critter.

“I’m happy to get a little recognition for Cuero,” she said, “but this is not about money.”

The frozen head she owns may or may not be from a chupacabra, but Canion has become Cuero’s Chupacabra Lady. When someone sent her a letter addressed only “The Chupacabra Lady, Cuero, Texas,” the Post Office delivered it to her.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" October 24, 2007 column

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