Monday, February 4, 2013

Legendary Creatures of the American Southwest: Cactus Cat and Chupacabras

New Mexico Fairytales includes as key characters two legendary creatures of the American Southwest, the cactus cat and the chupacabras.

Of the two creatures, the cactus cat is the earlier known. It's existence is documented in Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwood, published in 1910. By contrast, reports of chupacabras sightings in the American Southwest only began in recent years.

The cactus cat is about the size of a traditional bobcat. It is covered with spines, the longest along the back and tail. The best time to see a cactus cat is during the desert howl, the song the cat makes it's been drinking fermented cactus juice. To find a cactus cat, one must seek out a slashed cactus in the deep desert, hide, and wait for nightfall. The cactus cat slashes the cactus leaves open on one night then returns the following day, after sunset, to drink the now fermented juice.

If you can't find a slashed cactus, try leaving out a glass of fermented blue agave juice, known outside the realm of the deep desert as 'tequila'. Top shelf quality is recommended, as the cactus cat is a connoisseur of fermented cactus juice and will not tolerate the blended tequilas dumped in the average margarita.

Please be aware, even the best tequila may not be enough to bring the cactus cat out of hiding. Sightings of the animal in recent years have been rare. The exact cause for this is unknown, though theories abound. The increasing encroachment of new, unnatural species like 'cyclists' and 'campers' in the cactus cat's natural habit, may endanger the species. Alternatively, the cactus cat may simply have lost territory to a new and vicious legendary creature, the chupacabras.

To learn the origin of the cactus cat, read Last Light in New Mexico Fairytales.

The earliest reported sightings of chupacabras began in Puerto Rico, around 1995. Since that time, the creature has moved steadily north. In recent years, it has been sighted in the American Southwest. The English translation of chupacabras is "goat sucker". Goats are the primary or favored diet of the creature, but the chupacabras has been known to suck blood and eat organs from other livestock and domesticated animals. As yet, there are no confirmed cases of chupacabras attacking humans.

The physical appearance of the chupacabras is a matter of some debate. Many accounts of eye-witnesses describe the creature as a hairless or scaly-skinned creature, coyote like in its form.

Such animals are not chupacabras. They are coyotes suffering from a kind of mange. The mange robs coyotes of hair and makes them more susceptible to dermal injury, infection, and premature death. A true chupacabras has gray hair, very coarse, that grows with especial ferocity along the animal's spine. Many people, seeing the chupacabras at night or in silhouette, have mistaken the hairs for spikes, but it is in fact the cactus cat that has such spikes.

News accounts of chupacabras sightings in the US sometimes spell the creature's name without the “s” at the end; “chupacabra.” This error is the result of a misunderstanding about the Spanish word. Though it ends with a “s”, chupacabras is in fact the singular form of the word. I chose in the story Goat Herd, found in New Mexico Fairytales, to use the same term for both plural and singular forms, since trying to make a new form of the word for the plural would just add mud to already dirty water.
I don't know that anyone has ever seen multiple chupacabras at one time, as in Goat Herd. God help you if you do.

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