Since my first time to Puerto Rico in 2004, I’ve now made nine trips to the island, all in hot pursuit of the Chupacabras, the resident monsters of the island. Without doubt it’s one of my favorite places. The culture, the people, the food, the history, the beaches, the architecture, and more: everything is perfect. And, of course, in its midst is the “Goat-Sucker,” as some call the mysterious beast. Many people, I came to realize quickly, suspected that the Chupacabras were extraterrestrial creatures. Others thought they were demonic entities. Most, however, suspected that the Chupacabras were the products of “secret experiments” on the island. That theory still remains popular. Just ask and you’ll find out. There is, however, another theory that I find intriguing when it comes to the matter of the Chupacabras. Before we get to it, let’s look at how everything all began. It was August 1995, when a woman named Madelyne Tolentino – who lived in Canovanas, which is close to the northeast coast of Puerto Rico – changed everything. Madelyne’s description of the creature she encountered, close to her mother’s home, was disturbing, to say the very least. It was a description eagerly embraced by the island’s media and by investigators of monsters and mysteries.
Madelyne told journalists and researchers that the creature was around three feet in height, bipedal, ran in a weird, hopping fashion, had large black eyes, bony fingers on each hand, overly long arms and legs, and a kind of feathery line running down its back. Or, it appeared to Madelyne to be a feathery line: a young boy employed by Tolentino’s husband claimed that he saw the beast up close and personal and maintained that the feathers were, in reality, sharp spines. The boy also said that the creature possessed a mouthful of vicious-looking fangs. Not only did the people know of the Chupacabra and its predations, they also now knew what it looked like: something straight out of their worst nightmares. The legend still exists. But, there is something else: a suspicion that the Chupacabras might be nothing less than monstrous, over-sized bats. I learned of this theory also immediately when, in 2004, I was roaming around the island with monster-seeker Jon Downes for the SyFy Channel’s show, Proof Positive.
One of the most fascinating accounts came from a woman named Norka. She was elderly and not in great health at the time, but she was very enthused about being interviewed about her 1975 encounter – in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque Rain-Forest – with a creature that looked far less like the traditional Chupacabra, but far more like a bat of an epic size. As the film-crew told her in advance of the show, Norka had painted a picture of the creature she saw. Not only that, she very generously gave the painting to me to keep. I still have it in one of my rooms, hanging on the wall. Norka told of how, when she briefly saw the creature, it appeared bat-like. On top of that, Norka added, farm animals in the same area had been drained of blood and at the same time of her encounter. It’s intriguing to know that more than a few people have reported seeing wings on the Chupacabras. Tales of giant bats can be found not just in Puerto Rico. A wealth of such stories comes from the Kaonde people of Zambia, as you’ll see now.
It’s largely thanks to an early 20th century explorer, Frank H. Melland, that we know of the accounts of these immense and fearsome fliers. Melland’s sources in the tribes told him that the most feared of all the monsters of the skies was the Kongamato. Its name means “over-whelmer [sic] of boats.” The name is a very apt one, since it had the habit of swooping down on canoes and savagely attacking and killing those within. It was a huge beast that lived in, and hunted in, the Jiundu swamps, and which deeply terrified the people of the area. As for the appearance of the Kongamato, it looked somewhat like a bird – at first glance, I should stress. That it utterly lacked feathers, however, and the fact that its red body was leathery-looking, was membranous, and had wings far more befitting those of a bat, suggests it was something else entirely. Moreover, its immense mouth was filled with sharp teeth that could slice a man in two in an instant, which is not something typical of the average bird.
Acting purely on instinct, when Melland explored the area in 1924 – a trip which he chronicled in his 1923 book, In Witchbound Africa – he showed the local tribespeople artistic renditions of various presumed extinct pterosaurs, including one of a pterodactyl. On seeing the pictures, the tribespeople cried one word, and one word only: “Kongamato!” Very likely connected to the tales told by the Bokaonde and Kaonde tribes are similar accounts coming out of the Kitui Wakamaba people, also of Zambia. They told their stories to a man named A. Blayney Percival who, in 1928, penned A Game Ranger on Safari. So the Kitui Wakamaba said, they could always tell when one of the chiefly nocturnal creatures had landed near their villages, as they always left behind them, large, telltale tracks on the ground. As with the data shared with Frank H. Melland a few years earlier, the Kitui Wakamba described their resident monster as large, leathery and possessed of huge, membranous wings. Such stories were also handed to, and faithfully recorded by, Colonel Charles R.S Pitman, the author of A Game Warden Takes Stock. On top of that, a well-respected ichthyologist, Dr. J.L.B. Smith, investigated a number of almost identical cases from Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
If one takes a trip along Africa’s Gold Coast, one is likely to eventually come across stories of the Susabonsam. To the locals, it very much resembles something that is half-man and half-bat. It’s notable that a revered cryptozoologist, Ivan Sanderson, wrote in his book, Investigating the Unexplained, that while wading in an African creek at some point in 1932, he was suddenly, and out of the blue, dive-bombed by an immense creature with a wingspan of around twelve feet. As someone well acquainted with just about every animal under the sun, Sanderson knew exactly what the beast was. It was a bat, although one of previously unheard of, massive proportions. The precise location was Cameroon’s Assumbo Mountains. And Sanderson was not alone; also witness to the obscenely huge bat was a biologist named Gerald Russell, who shot at the animal but failed to kill it. It was this close call with death that led Sanderson to ponder on an intriguing possibility. He began to wonder if the Kongamato, the Susabonsam, and a variety of other flying monsters reported in Africa were not surviving pterosaurs, after all. He came to believe that each and every one of them may have been examples of…giant, ferocious bats. In many respects, this makes a great deal of sense. After all, the idea of giant bats is far more plausible than surviving pockets of animals believed to have become extinct tens of millions of years ago. In light of all the above, we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of huge bats on Puerto Rico; huge bats that have mistakenly been termed “Chupacabra.”