By Christopher Francis - email
FRANKFORT, KY (KOLD) - It's a creature of legend, said to suck the blood from goats: the elusive chupacabra. Millions around the world have been mesmerized by stories of sightings in New Mexico and Texas... and now Kentucky.
Animal experts say a hairless animal found there last month is not the creature of lore but a hairless raccoon. Still, it's fascinating biologists.
"Well, it's something strange so I'm going to get my rifle and shoot it," said Mark Cothern upon finding the creature.
When a Louisville TV station reported on the find, it went viral, spreading to news organizations around the world.
"It's kind of exploded, and everybody's on Facebook, exchanging pictures. It's pretty interesting."
"It is no doubt a hideous creature," says wildlife biologist Steve Dobey. "There's just no way around it. It's not very attractive and without that fur... that fur absent, it gives it a whole new appearance as to what it is."
But the origin of the mystery animal is now revealed thanks to biologists at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"The anatomical features of it, the skeletal features, the general appearances, particularly in this instance the paws, it gives it away. That it is in fact a raccoon."
They've seen this strange creature before. In 2007, this animal was caged while it was still living and brought to their attention. The similarities are obvious. But state fish and wildlife biologists are still very interested in studying this animal for an entirely different reason.
"Not to determine the species. We know it's a raccoon, But to determine what the cause of this is. It's likely some form of obvious hair loss."
Other chupacabra sightings in the west have mainly been coyotes with mange. But it's a mystery why these hairless creatures are turning up more often. A biologist has collected skin samples to further studies on the animal.
Biologists say there are many reasons a raccoon might lose its hair or be born without it, including disease, shock or a genetic disorder.
Because of all the worldwide attention, Cothern is taking the animal to a taxidermist to mount it.
"It's kind of been fun, actually," says Cothern. "It's a little mystery in your day."
Ann Bowdan of WLKY contributed to this report.
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