If you follow cryptozoology and monster news like I do (and I realize that’s a big IF), you know that there has been a huge jump in reported “mystery monster” findings of both alive and dead animals, especially in North America, over the past five years. Most of the “monsters” are hairless, four-legged creatures. And the vast majority of them appear in the sunny Southwest.
What the animals have in common is a bad case of mange. Mange is a parasitic skin infection caused by mites. Sarcoptic mange, a highly contagious form of the disease, can cause hair loss as well as skin welts and crusting. Because people usually see animals with their full coat of fur, animals with mange can be very difficult to identify. Most “monsters” turn out to be mangy raccoons, dogs, or coyotes.
There’s a good ecological reason for the increase in mange reports: global warming. Mike Bowdenchuck, state director for Texas Wildlife Services, explained why wild animals with severe cases of mange are more common in Texas and the southwest than other rural areas: “Down here, animals don’t die of mange, because the temperatures are warm enough. Mange is very common in colder areas, in fact wolves are getting it in Montana right now, and in North Dakota foxes get it. Up there it’s fatal, so you never see animals with the severe cases that we see in the southern climates, because they don’t live long enough for the mites to get that bad to cause the hair to fall off. They die of hypothermia first.” This piece of the puzzle fits perfectly: animals (legendary or otherwise) that have lost their fur would be more vulnerable to the elements, and therefore live longer (and be more likely to be seen) in warmer areas. If this is true, then sightings of animals with advanced stages of mange should be reported more often in northern areas as the climate warms. Animals that have lost their fur are more vulnerable to the cold, and therefore live longer (and be more likely to be seen) in warmer areas. Thus sightings of hairless animals will become more common as the climate warms.
And, of course, in order for someone to “identify” (rightly or wrongly) a strange animal as a chupacabra, there must be a pre-existing knowledge of the beast. The Hispanic and Latin American cultural influences in Texas are stronger than in most other states, so the average Texan (especially one working on a rural ranch) is far more likely to be aware of the chupacabra than the average New Yorker or Oregonian.
I discuss this subject in-depth in my upcoming book Tracking the Vampire: Fact, Fiction, and Folklore of the Chupacabra .