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Tracking the Chupacabra
Thursday, 05 May 2011
Photo by Wes Naman
Tracking the Chupacabra:
The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore
By Benjamin Radford
UNM Press, 2011
Softcover, 288 pages
ISBN: 978-0826350152
By Tom Gibbons
“Among the monsters said to roam the world’s desolate deserts and dense jungles, perhaps none is more feared than the bloodthirsty Chupacabra ... a contradictory and bizarre amalgamation of vampiric monster, folk myth, and chameleon.”
— Benjamin Radford, Tracking the Chupacabra

Part comprehensive catalog of chupacabra sightings (both debunked and as yet unresolved), part analysis of vampire myths throughout history and part log of the author’s own investigations of the chupacabra legend, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore is a work of scientific paranormal investigation. Local iQ sat down with Corrales author Benjamin Radford for a conversation about the unusual endeavor that brought this book into existence.

Radford has been active in paranormal investigations for over 15 years, with five books to his credit. A regular contributor to Discovery News and, Radford is also managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a research fellow with the nonprofit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Radford co-hosts the Monster Talk podcast, available free online.

Local iQ: What are the origins of the Chupacabra myth?

Benjamin Radford: The very first sightings and accounts of what has become known as the “goat sucker” — the English translation of “chupacabra” — are said to have occurred in Puerto Rico on August 10, 1995. Some people who I have spoken to on the subject insist that there have been sightings of this vampiric beast dating back to the 1950s, but none of these claims are supported.

The real origins of the chupacabra legend are entangled with the more universal vampire myths that arose not only in Europe, but also in Africa, and Central and South America. In these latter cases, as with the chupacabra itself, sentiments of anti-colonialism have fed and strengthened these bedtime stories about blood-sucking creatures, making them into something more — something that truly took hold over people’s imaginations.

iQ: Your interest in unexplained phenomena has led to a long-standing involvement in investigating, and often debunking, claims from many sources, which are detailed in your book. Is it possible to reconcile proper scientific investigation with the belief that there truly is something out there?

BR: Most witnesses I have spoken with truly believe what they’re saying — they are sincere and have genuinely experienced something that they cannot explain. Without supporting evidence and a serious approach to investigating claims, that is all they are: stories. It is the role of the investigator(s) to say, ‘Here are these mysteries; how do we bring scientific methodology to bear, not to debunk or disprove, but to find out exactly what is going on?’ In my book, Scientific Paranormal Investigation, I outline the how-tos to anyone wishing to engage in similar kinds of investigation and research.

My interest is always in solving the mystery; a definitive answer is the goal, whether it sustains or debunks the subject of the investigation. When looking for worthwhile subjects of investigation, filtering out the hoaxes and hucksters, one has to go about it like a police investigator: One, look for a claim with substance behind it, most often a sighting confirmed by more than one witness; and two, some kind of physical evidence.

Leaping to conclusions is not what homicide detectives do, nor is it what fully qualified scientific researchers do. Instead you have to put yourself out there and go to the places where the stories come from, and observe, objectively, what you find.

iQ: You chronicle your own investigation of the chupacabra in the jungles of Nicaragua in Tracking the Chupacabra. Out of dozens of possible countries, why Nicaragua?

BR: The chupacabra myth grew widespread in Latin America in the late ’90s to the early 2000s. In the year 2000, one of the most famous sightings of the chupacabra occurred in Nicaragua. After analyzing accounts and sightings, and the area itself, I decided that if there ever was a place for chupacabras to potentially exist, it would be Nicaragua. I did not set out to prove or disprove that there was a real, blood-sucking chupacabra out in the jungle. The purpose was to undertake a scientific expedition and try to collect any evidence, be it in the form of tracks, scat or prey of an unusual animal.

As the chupacabra became better known in the United States in the latter half of the 2000s, claims of physical specimens began increasing in the Southwest. One example of an as-yet-unconfirmed case, is the chupacabra of Blanco, Texas, a specimen inspected and dissected by taxidermist Jerry Ayer. Though he later emphatically denied the rumor that this strange animal was anything approaching a chupacabra, the “specimen”  found its way into the creationist Lost World Museum in October 2009, and John Adolfi, the current owner of the specimen, has yet to make public the DNA test results.

In a case like this, Occam’s razor points us to the most readily apparent reason test results in this case weren’t made public. When autopsies or actual DNA tests are performed on specimens like the Blanco chupacabra, they turn out to be deformed dogs, hairless raccoons or mangy coyotes. What all of these animals have in common is that none of them can suck blood.

In rural areas of Latin America, many claimants are taken at their word, but cannot produce physical specimens or back up the claims that their livestock has been drained of blood. If the population is largely Hispanic, whether in the United States or elsewhere, strange sightings and cases of slaughtered livestock are often automatically attributed to the chupacabra. This is why there is so little general agreement upon what the creature is actually supposed to look like.

iQ: Is it your conclusion that the myth of the Chupacabra is just that — a spook story that has grown out of proportion?

BR: When I set out to write this book, I did not do so with the intention of killing the chupacabra (myth). I don’t think it is going to. There will always be a divide between what scientists and experts know for a fact, and what the general public believes. Lacking any compelling physical evidence of a creature that can, and will suck the blood out of livestock, however, it is safe to consider this myth debunked — for now.

Critics of my work will claim that I am seeking only to disprove these legends, but I only report the findings resulting from my own investigations. If you disagree with my findings, I would love to see the results of your own research and analysis. But it has to come from real scientific methods familiar to anyone with a purpose more precise than the simple gathering and retelling of tall tales.
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