Chupacabra Sightings Reported by Residents in the Mountains of Riverside County, California
On a foggy morning more than a week ago, Cary Shuker's cat raced inside his Riverside home, terrified of something outside.
"This thing was standing out there, looking at me" said Shuker, a private contractor who lives at the base of Box Springs Mountain, which divides Moreno Valley and Riverside. "It was the ugliest looking thing."
Shuker said the hairless creature, glaring at him about 80 or 90 feet away, had a tail like a rat or a possum, with rippled pinkish skin, teeth jutting both up and down out of its jaws and was "at least two feet or more longer than the biggest coyote you've ever seen."
"I yelled at it, in a big deep voice, 'get out of here!'" Shuker said.
The creature turned and snarled at him, before stalking off. Before it vanished, it turned back toward Shuker, snarling and chattering one more time. "It was cussing me out, basically. ... I stole its breakfast. It was hunting my cat," Shuker said. "This wasn't no coyote, by any means."
In the rocky Box Springs Mountain territory, residents say they believe that the strange wild animal they've encountered since the beginning of the year is the legendary chupacabra.
"I thought, 'That is the strangest looking animal I've ever seen,'" said M.J. Blunt, a retired child development consultant.
She saw the creature for the first time a year ago, eating fruit from a tree in a front yard of a nearby home.
"The ears of a deer, long snout, no hair, tail like a rat, long hindquarters," she said. "I thought it might be a sick coyote, a sick wolf. But it had too many different characteristics from any of them."
Chupacabra sightings first occurred in Puerto Rico in 1995, and were soon echoed throughout Latin America. Initial reports focused on the "goat suckers" preying on livestock. By 1996, The Press-Enterprise was reporting sightings in Fontana and Perris. In 2013, chupacabra sightings were reported in Redlands, northeast of Box Springs Mountain. Officials said the Redlands reports appeared to be of coyotes with mange.
Mange is a skin condition found in dogs and other canines, caused by scabies mites that burrow under the skin. When dogs (or coyotes) frantically scratch for relief from the itching, they eventually cause much of their hair to fall out.
Tom Brundige, an inventor of fire-resistant paint additives and insulation, first saw the creatures this past spring in an area burned in the Opera Fire in April.
"We're looking at it dead on. It has a body like a chihuahua, stretched out, with a large thoracic cavity," Brundige said. "And it has huge hind legs. It has a very narrow, ratlike face, with undulations in it, more like a marsupial."
The creature had a ratlike tail and a grayish black stripe on its midsection, he said.
"The donkeys that come from central Mexico, Texas, they come right through my gate," said Brundige, who has lived at the base of the mountain for 28 years. "These guys, I believe, followed them from central America."
He believes the creatures are a hybrid of a canine and a marsupial, like a kangaroo, and has dubbed them "canis marsupius."
"If you don't have a genus or species, (scientists) won't talk to you. It's a fairy tale," he said. "It's not."
Brundige is right: Animal control officials and academics are skeptical, at best, of their claims.
"The chupacabra is not a recognized species by the Department of Fish and Wildlife," said Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Chupacabras are not a thing."
The department gets one or two calls a year from residents who say they've seen them, Hughan said.
"There is no such thing, except in the folklore of various communities," John Welsh, spokesman for Riverside County Animal Services, wrote in an email.
"Residents living in this area are right in the backyard of coyotes," Welsh wrote, "and the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park is not that far away either; there are bobcats and, in some rare circumstances, reports of a mountain lion in that area."
Coyotes, in particular, Welsh noted, are "constantly preying on small pets," like Shuker's cat.
All three witnesses say what they've seen is too big to be a coyote, which they're familiar with, along with other wildlife they've encountered in their decades living in the shadow of Box Springs Mountain.
"It sounds like the craziest, made-up story," Shuker said. "But it's not."