Mystery 'Goatsucker' brings fear to Miami grips Latin America 2x42pt oveyr 2

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The Independent Online
It has been billed as part-cat, part-bat, even some form of alien. Some say it has glowing red eyes, an ET-like head and moves like a reptile. Others say it walks upright on Kangaroo-like hind legs, strangling its victims with strong front paws before draining them of their blood. There are those who believe it's a fantasy fanned by media hype.

Whatever it is, one or more of the mysterious "chupacabras," or "goatsuckers," are blamed for attacking hundreds of goats, ducks, swans, and dogs in recent weeks from Puerto Rico to Miami to Mexico. In Mexico City, the beast was blamed by some last week for biting off the arm of a 25-year- old nurse.

Fearing the "goatsucker" was a giant bat, Mexican peasants lit fires in caves, leading the Environment Minister, Julia Carabias, to warn that they were damaging fragile ecosystems.

The minister insisted the creature was a wild dog or large cat. But the English-language The Mexico City Times quoted a woman scientist as saying: "I believe the goatsucker is in fact many animals that are the result of a genetic transmutation that went badly wrong."

The alleged creature first surfaced last year in Puerto Rico, where its notoriety led to "chupacabras" T-shirts and a Cuban comedian had a hit song that went: "Better have fun, don't hesitate, 'cos if the goatsucker gets me, it's gonna suck me dry."

This week, "goatsucker" frenzy swept Mexico, as farmers reported an alien- like beast was stalking livestock, drinking their blood but ignoring the flesh. The dead animals all had one thing in common - two large teeth marks and no blood left. "Goatsucker Fever Sweeps Nation," headlined the Mexico City Times on Thursday, along with an artists' impression of the beast said to have been "based on eyewitness accounts".

Earlier, the "chupacabras" had terrorised Miami but for local police and experts the answer was simple. "This is just a big dog," said Ron Magill of Miami's metrozoo. In a city where many Cubans and Brazilians believe in black magic and Haitian immigrants go into trances at secret voodoo ceremonies, however, many took the mystery beast seriously.

Some residents began hanging garlic chains on their doors to ward off what they fear could be an animal-like Dracula.

The "chupacabras" became something of a local Loch Ness Monster in Miami, feeding a hungry media on quiet days and giving vent to stories worthy of the "magic realism" of Colombia's Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

After the mystery beast killed and drained 27 chickens and two goats outside the home of Olimpia Govea, in Miami's Sweetwater district, the media flocked to the area, followed by assorted mystics and self-styled experts on aliens and UFOs.

"These are beings of superior intelligence," insisted Roberto Orozco, who billed himself as a scientist and "goatsucker" expert. "They have been created by genetic engineering with the aim of destabilising the US government."

Virgilio Sanchez, director of Miami's UFO Centre, took prints from tracks left by the creature outside Mrs Govea's home and said he would study them with experts. In Miami's Little Havana district, a Cuban- American, Julio Ramirez, cashed in on the "goatsucker" frenzy. He opened a new restaurant called the Chupa Cabras but was quick to point out he would not be serving goat stew.