Monday, September 20, 2010

Mystery Animals: Yesterday and Today

Mystery Animals: Yesterday and Today
By Scott Corrales

A curious news item made its way to the Reuters World Service in October 1996: Elements of the Egyptian police had allegedly shot and captured two strange savage animals of a pack that had terrorized the small Egyptian town of Armant, a community in the Nile Valley some three hundred miles south of Cairo, killing three villagers and wounding dozens in a series of nocturnal raids against the population.

The news item went on to say that the bloodthirsty creatures resembled "large hyenas or wild dogs." Known to the locals as salaawwa, the beasts allegdly belong to no known species of canids. Egypt's Ministry of the Interior offered the theory that the animals had been driven northward from the Sudan in search of new hunting grounds. Armed villagers joined the gendarmes in efforts to ensnare the bizarre animals, ultimately managing to wound a specimen as it emerged from the farmland bent on attacking individual homes. Another such creature had been shot dead, and no further information was available on the beasts.

In a world in which new species are added to the roster every year, the news of hyena offshoots attacking humans in the Nile should simply be chalked up to animal reactions resulting from changes in the environment. But the Egyptian news story has a curious ring of familiarity to it.

In the year 774 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Leo IV, called "the Khazar", the Eastern Roman Empire was swept by a plague of quasi-biblical proportions which was followed by the appearance of bizarre carnivorous animals which could be dead-ringers for the one in the Reuters item. A Syriac priest and chronicler of the time, Denys de Tell-Mahre, describes the creatures as having no fear of humans and resembling wolves, but with smaller and narrower muzzles and horse-like ears. "The skin on their dorsal spine resembled the bristles of pigs," adds the medieval chronicler.

Swarms of these strange canids fanned out across Anatolia, devouring dozens of farmers and villagers. The animals fought their human attackers fiercely, unafraid of weapons, brazenly carrying off children out of homes and fields.

Soon, however, we begin to encounter clearly paranormal overtones emerging from this Syriac chronicle: the nameless beasts were able to "abduct children from their beds" and dogs refused to bark at their appearance. Entire herds of cattle were destroyed, and "when one of them attacked a herad of goats, or flock of sheep, it took away several at a time," adds the chronicle.

In a medieval fairy-tale of the same period, a paladin would doubtlessly have appeared to redress the situation, but what happened in real life was far more prosaic: the monstrous creatures simply moved on to a new hunting ground, apparently what is today northern Iraq. No mention of the creatures is made in subsequent Middle Eastern annals.

Paranormal creatures of every shape and size conceivable appear and disappear around the world, causing physical damage and preying on domesticated animals. The same pattern has repeated itself over the centuries well into the twentieth century.

The Moca Vampire -- Deja Vu All Over Again

On Februrary 25, 1975, a Puerto Rican newspaper ran one of the very first headlines concerning the wave of mysterious animal deaths to occur in the vicinity of the small town of Moca, on the island's western side.

The creature, christened "The Moca Vampire" by the press, began its activities in Moca's Barrio Rocha, where it killed a number of animals in a grisly fashion never seen before. Fifteen cows, three goats, two geese and a pig were found dead with strange puncture marks on their hides, indicating that some sharp object --natural or artificial-- had been inserted into the hapless bovines. Autopsy reports invariably showed that not a single drop of blood remained within the animals, as if it had been consumed by some predator. Police officers were adamant about ascribing the deaths to dogs, since they correctly believed that not even the wildest of feral dogs could climb some of the fences surrounding the dead animals' pens.

On March 7, 1975, a cow belonging to Rey Jim‚nez was found dead in Moca's Barrio Cruz, presenting deep, penetrating wounds on its skull and a number of scratches around the wounds on its body. Jim‚nez's cow was added to the growing list of victims, which now totalled well over thirty.

As the number of victims grew exponentially, the Moca Vampire acquired an identity of its own, much in the same way that the Chupacabras would twenty years later. Speculation as to its nature was rife: many believed it was a supernatural "bird", like the one seen by Mar¡a Acevedo, a Moca resident who noticed that a strange animal had landed on her home's zinc rooftop in the middle of the night. According to Acevedo's testimony, the bird pecked at the rusty rooftop and at the windows before taking flight, issuing a terrifying scream.

The UFO phenomenon did not wait excessively long before manifesting itself in the dark skies over Moca: on March 12, 1975, Luis Torres, together with his son and daughter-in-law, witnessed an object which resembled "the lights on a police cruiser" spinning in the night on the outskirts of town. Torres and his family estimated that the object had been engaged in an overflight of the fields in which mutilated animals were being found. A few days later, on March 15, farmer Cecilio Hern ndez notified authorities that the elusive Moca Vampire had slain thirty-four chickens on his property at some point during the night. The supernatural entity was by now responsible for ninety animal deaths in a two week period.

A false moment of hope marked this critical period in the Moca crisis: Luis Torres, the same farmer who had reported seeing a UFO over Moca's outlying regions, became the man of the hour after slaying two enormous snakes (Puerto Rican boas) measuring an unheard-of six-foot length. Torres had captured the creatures as they stood ready to attack a 600-pound heifer. The media hailed this act of heroism as the "solution to the mutilation riddle"; citizens could finally issue a collective sigh of relief.

However, the Moca Vampire had its own agenda. On March 18, 1975, two goats belonging to Hector Vega, a resident of Moca's Barrio Pueblo, were found drained of blood. Puncture marks on the goats' necks were the unmistakable sign that the strange creature causing the deaths was still at large and hungrier than ever: it returned to Vega's farm the following night to finish off ten more goats and wound another seven. The horrified farmer also discovered that ten additional goats had gone missing.

It was this last spree of vampiristic activity that finally prompted official action in the form of a visit from the Senate Agricultural Commission, led by Senator Miguel A. Deynes, Police colonel Samuel L¢pez and a number of functionaries. After talking to the affected parties and to local law enforcement officials, Senator Deynes requested that Astol Toledo, the Superintendent of Police "redouble his efforts in getting to the bottom of the situation," as there was no doubt in his mind that no animal could cause so many deaths. (In yet another curious parallel between the Moca Vampire and the Chupacabras of the nineties, the Superintendent of Police 20 years later would be Pedro Toledo).

Supporters of the "killer snake" theory which had gained adherents in the wake of Luis Torres' exploits had their hopes dashed yet again by Dr. Juan Rivero, a Mayagez-based herpetologist who stated in no uncertain terms that the Puerto Rican boa, a non-poisonous reptile, was physically incapable of killing animals as large as a goat, much less a cow. The herpetologist added that snakes' mouths were not adapted to suck blood.

Felix Badillo could not believe his eyes when, on the morning of March 23, 1975, he found a ten pound piglet dead in it pen. The tiny porker was missing an ear and had a sizeable hole on the side of its head. Badillo was haunted by the fact that such a thing could have happened to one of his animals, since his fierce watchdog had neither barked nor growled during the night and there was no sign of a struggle. The pig farmer was hardly comforted by the expert opinion of Dr. Angel de la Sierra, a specialist with the University of Puerto Rico, who noted that the cut on the piglet's ear stump was similar to certain incisions made in experimental surgery to study deafness.

The Moca Vampire had apparently tired of its diet and was ready for a new treat. At ten o'clock at night on March 25, laborer Juan Mu¤iz was allegedly attacked by a "horrible creature covered in feathers," as he would later describe it. Mu¤iz was returning home to Moca's Barrio Pulido when he saw the unsightly entity. The laborer threw stones at the creature to frighten it away, but only managed to provoke its anger: the creature flew toward him, prompting Mu¤iz to seek shelter behind some bushes before running to a neighbor's house. An armed group of locals sought to find the strange being, but no trace was found.

By April 1975, the "vampire" had transcended the narrow confines of Moca, embarking on an island-wide spree of animal killings. Among its first depredations outside the San Juan metropolitan area was the slaying of a pig on a farm belonging to one Benigno Lozada in Guaynabo, P.R.. Meanwhile, an all-out effort to apprehend the suspected human element behind the mutilations had been set into motion by the police, while on the other hand, the media bent over backward to find a "rational" or "scientific" explanation that would dismiss the strong supernatural air surrounding the unknown predator. When some "odd bats" were discovered in a limestone cave near Moca, hope welled in newsrooms throughout the island. However, it was soon pointed out that the bats were in fact of the ordinary kind, who live on fruit and do not attack animals.

On April 2, the predator paid a visit to a farm owned by Isauro Melgar in Corozal's Barrio Negro. The Moca Vampire killed eight goats and a dozen rabbits on the property. This loss was particularly painful for the small farmer, since the breeding rabbits had been quite valuable.

Fearing that the unknown creature would stage a return on the following evening, Melgar mounted a watch all night, spreading poison on the ground to eliminate whatever it was seemed interested in his bunnies. Joined by a group of armed neighbors, Melgar kept watch until three in the morning. The moment the men disbanded, whatever it was returned with a vengeance to slay more animals. This only strengthened the farmers' determination to remain awake all night, if need be.

At half past midnight on April 5th, Isauro Melgar and his companions were startled by a deafening sound which suddenly blanketed the otherwise silent countryside. Amid the unearthly din, the farmers saw a shadowy figure running swiftly through the trees, away from an open pasture. They would later discover that four more goats had been slain. Stoical despite of his losses, Melgar told the press that "whatever killed my goats was definitely not human. I don't believe in vampires, of course, but I really can't say what kind of creature killed my animals."

Two months into the Moca Vampire scare, official declarations began appearing in the media and in government communiqu‚s. Dr. Benedicto Negr¢n, a veterinarian for the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture, noted that "the situation was a concern" to his agency, expressing a fear that the uncanny events might unleash hysteria among the population. In an April 9th editorial, the now-defunct El Mundo ran an editorial requesting greater leadership from the government in solving the bizarre mutilations.

As was the case during the Chupacabras events in 1995, it would take more than an exhortation from the media to prompt official action, so the killing spree continued. A variety of ducks, chickens and other poultry were drained of blood at locations as disparate as Aguadilla (on the island's western shore) and Guaynabo (a suburb of San Juan). Heavy UFO activity was reported over the metropolitan suburbs of Santa Rosa and Cerro Gordo, while a massive cigar-shaped UFO, emitting strong yellow lights through rectangular portholes, hovered some 1500 feet over a family home in the suburb of Cupey, giving the homeowners and their neighbors a leisurely, 45 minute-long look. Researchers found scorched vegetation the following morning, presumably at the location where the unknown vehicle had made a furtive landing.

On May 13, 1975, Jos‚ Santos, of Corozal's Palo Blanco sector, reportedly encountered a round-headed, hairy-tailed and large-eyed creature which issued growls similar to those made by a small dog. Santos believed that whatever the small creature was, it was definitely not native to the island. Back in Moca, however, three roosters, a rabbit and five goats belonging to the municipal treasurer met untimely ends at the hands (fangs?) of an unknown intruder.

UFO activity had increased to a record high during May 1975, paralleling the rise in animal mutilations. A group of three objects, two of them resembling stars, flew over Fajardo, P.R. with impunity. Among the witnesses were an astronomer and a Ph.D in psychology, who were absolutely positive in classifying the objects as neither natural nor of human manufacture.

At nine thirty p.m. on May 17th, a UFO flew low over a home in Park Gardens, Rio Piedras. Three women who had been engaged in conversation on the front porch were startled to see a large ball of powerful yellow light engage in a series of complex maneuvers overhead. Simultaneous sightings were taking place elswhere over San Juan: three witnesses were surprised to see a house-sized luminous craft spinning in the night skies over a historic landmark -- Fort San Crist¢bal -- in the city's old section. An object surmounted by a red light flew in front of an apartment building facing the Condado Lagoon. According to the professional couple who witnessed its maneuvers, the object turned its light off as it flew by, remaining a dark mass against the sky.

The Moca Vampire's activity persisted well into the summer: On June 25th, it killed 25 farm animals outside of Isabela, P.R.. Fourteen fighting cocks were later exanguinated by the same predator, this time in Yauco, P.R.. As the summer wore on, the "vampire", its appetite seemingly sated, diminished its activity before vanishing altogether in August 1975.

UFO researcher and journalist John Keel, in his landmark book The Eighth Tower (Dutton, 1975), makes several observations which can be applied to the paranormal events which occured in the Caribbean during the '70s and which would repeat themselves years later. One of the reasons for the apparent imperviousness of these so-called monsters to bladed weapons or bullets (the reader will recall the number of Bigfoot cases in the U.S. in which high-power rifles apparently have no effect on these entities) is due to the fact that they are composed of "highly condensed atoms" such as those in plutonium.

Keel goes on to theorize that if dense, probably radioactive, atoms account for these creature's composition, it would explain why these manifestations have such brief existences in our material world. When first materialized, Keel suggests, these creatures pose no threat to humans, but as their atomic integrity deteriorates, they might easily project lethal radiation. Investigators following the trail of the Chupacabras in 1995, both in Puerto Rico and Central America, reportedly found considerably high radiation readings at the locations in which the entity staged its attacks.

Across the Mona Passage

Another puzzling streak of animal mutilations occurred in the Dominican Republic -- separated from Puerto Rico by the narrow body of water known as the Mona Passage -- three years after the Moca Vampire entered into legend. The killings took place on the Dominican Republic's border with Haiti, near the sugar-producing region on the Bay of Ocoa, between late 1977 and early 1978. The grisly events were almost a replay of the Puerto Rican scenario: mutilations, accompanied by strange lights and bizarre creatures, tormented the cane-cutters of the town of Barahona, who claimed that a "gigantic dog" was slaying and eating domestic animals in the dead of the night. This monstrous canine possessed above average intelligence, being apparently able to enter locked pens and cages to extract the last drop of blood from its victims, which consisted largely of cats, hens and rabbits. Dominican officials scorned any extraterrestrial or paranormal suggestions, stating that the mutilations were merely "a joke in the poorest of taste" perpetrated by the poor inhabitants of this agricultural area. The fact that the locals could ill afford sacrificing their animals for the sake of a prank was deemed irrelevant.

The Dominican newspaper El Caribe reported in its December 18, 1978 issue that a strange animal with canine characteristics was devouring chickens, roosters, rabbits and other domestic animals: "According to the locals' beliefs, the baca or dundun (Voodoo entities) of some local merchant is responsible for the carnage. They say that it might also be an "evil spirit" sent by a rural warlock, or a witch who broke her covenant with the Dark Powers and is roaming through the night."

A ghostly entity was in fact reported in the wake of the Barahona mutilations. Eyewitnesses to its activities described it as having the body of a long-haired woman clad in black, but with her mouth, eyes and nose appeared to be covered "by something resembling cotton" (ectoplasm?).

The mutilations were closely followed by a number of "occupant" sightings as the flap reached its peak: Cone-shaped beings were seen in November 1978 by five women in Santo Domingo, the island-nation's capital. Three creatures,twice the height of the tallest human, carrying lanterns on their abdomens, descended a steep hillside to surround an automobile that braked to a screeching halt. The automobile's headlights died as the witnesses heard sounds which they assumed were blows being inflicted upon the vehicle by the conical trio. Their terrified screams attracted the attention of neighbors, who came to their aid. Not a trace was found of the bizarre creatures, nor of the automobile they had apparently surrounded.

Wings over Miami

The city of Miami is generally associated with events of a worldlier nature. After all, we hardly need to be reminded of "Miami Vice" and its attendant fashion statements. But even the Sunshine State's largest city has not been immune to paranormal events involving strange creatures.

One such event took place on January 9, 1976: Sergio Cervera and his teenage daughter Mercedes had been driving along Miami's 9th Street at two o'clock in the afternoon when a shadow fell over their car. Thinking at first that it was merely another cloud, Cervera suddenly became aware that the shadow had a distinctly bird-like configuration, measuring between 16 and 20 feet across. Experiencing a moment of confusion, he turned to his daughter and asked her if she had noticed anything unusual. Mercedes, rather frightened, said that she'd noticed the ghostly form of an enormous bird flying over their vehicle, and even heard the beating of its unearthly wings.

Neither Cervera nor his daughter ever saw the phenomenon again, but the former was suddenly reminded of a series of strange experiences he had undergone earlier that same week: he had been followed everywhere he went by a strange-looking man dressed in black, whom he at first thought to be a priest but without the white clerical collar. The mysterious MIB kept his distance, and quit following him precisely the day before the phantom bird incident.


In many respects, apparitions of unknown predatory creatures appear to follow a sort of pattern which defies our understanding. As exemplified by the enigmatic hyena-like beasts seen in Egypt, it appears to be a slightly modified replay of events which can be traced as far back as medieval times. The points of contact between the Moca Vampire and the Chupacabras are too numerous to mention, but foremost among them are the unknown predator's dietary habits and the almost identical response to it by officialdom and the press. Not only were there curious coincidences (such as the similarity of surnames among the police superintendents), but the very cyclical nature of the mutilations appeared to repeat itself twenty years later.

Both in the 1970s and 1990s, the phenomenon transcended the island of Puerto Rico to manifest itself in other countries (although descriptions of the entity, always contradictory, varied from one nation to the other) before extinguishing itself altogether. Does it then follow that in as the vernal equinox of 2015 rolls around, we will be treated to another "bout" of strange bloodsucking mutilators?