For two decades, controversial tales have surfaced from Puerto Rico describing a killer beast creeping around the landscape, plunging the population into a state of fear and apprehension. The face of this monster is dominated by a pair of glowing red eyes; it has razor-sharp, clawlike appendages, vicious-looking teeth that could likely inflict some truly serious damage, sharp spikes running down its neck and spine, and even, on occasion, large membranous wings. On top of that, the creature thrives on blood. Puerto Rico, then, is home to a real-life vampire. Its moniker is the Chupacabra, a Latin term meaning “goat-sucker”—in reference to the fact that when the Chupacabra tales first surfaced in the 1990s, most of the animals slain by the blood-sucking nightmare were goats. That’s right: If you’re a goat, it most certainly does not pay to make Puerto Rico your home. It might not be too safe if you’re human either.
Theories abound with respect to the nature of the beast. Some researchers and witnesses suggest that the monster is some form of giant bat; others prefer the theory that it has extraterrestrial origins. Certainly the most bizarre idea postulated is that the Chupacabra is the creation of a Top Secret genetic research laboratory hidden deep within Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rainforest, in the Sierra de Luquillo, approximately 25 miles southeast of the city of San Juan.
El Yunque was named after the Indian spirit Yuquiyu, but is also known as the Caribbean National Forest, and is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. Its 28,000 acres are a glorious sight to behold: More than 100 billion gallons of precipitation fall each year, creating the jungle-like ambience of lush foliage, sparkling leaves, spectacular waterfalls, shining wet rocks, and shadowy paths that really have to be seen up close and personal to be appreciated. The forest contains rare wildlife as well, including the Puerto Rican Parrot, the Puerto Rican Boa snake, a multitude of lizards and crabs, and of course the famous Coquí frog, so named after its unique vocalizations.
As for the Chupacabra…well, its predations and appearance are as legendary as they are feared. Although I could cite case after case, nearly ad infinitum, for our purposes one will suffice.
Norka is an elderly lady living in a truly beautiful home high in the El Yunque rainforest that one can only reach by negotiating an infinitely complex series of treacherous roads, built perilously close to the edge of some very steep hills. Although the exact date escapes her, Norka remembers driving home one night in 1975 or 1976, when she was both startled and horrified by the sight of a bizarre creature shambling across the road.
She described the animal as approximately four feet in height, with a monkey-like body that was covered in dark brown hair or fur, wings that were a cross between those of a bat and those of a bird, and glowing eyes that bulged alarmingly from a bat-like visage. Sharp claws flicked ominously in Norka’s direction. She could only sit and stare as the beast then turned its back on her and rose slowly into the sky. Since then, eerily similar encounters with such vile entities have haunted the terrified populace of Puerto Rico. They may have also attracted the attention of the official world too.
On one of my several expeditions to Puerto Rico, a number of residents suggested it would be a very good idea for me to focus my attention upon the links between the beast and a former U.S. Naval base called Roosevelt Roads, located in the town of Ceiba. Today the site holds the José Aponte de la Torre Airport, but in 1944, when the base was inaugurated, it was perceived as a place of prime strategic importance — particularly so if the island became the site of hostilities with unfriendly nations. By 1957, Roosevelt Roads had been officially designated as a Naval Station. To demonstrate its importance from a military perspective, the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO) had its base of operations at Roosevelt Roads. In January 2004, however, the Navy elected to relocate USNAVSO to Naval Station Mayport, Florida. When the Navy finally moved out of the base on March 31, 2004, it was seen as a victory for those on the island seeking independence.
But what about the link between Roosevelt Roads and the Chupacabra? According to the stories that were coming from all across Puerto Rico, a number of captured, very vicious Chupacabra had supposedly been briefly held within a secure, secret facility at Roosevelt Roads at some point in the early 1990s, before being secretly shipped to the States (probably to Area 51, or to some similar desert locale). This same story, in various incarnations and to varying degrees, was told to me by numerous individuals on the island. I was also informed that stories had been quietly circulating among the island’s inhabitants for years to the effect that there were some distinctly strange things going on deep in the rainforest at what was described to me as a “secret monkey research center.” So the rumors went, biological warfare tests, genetic manipulation, and even more horrifying experimentation were the order of the day there, and some of the unfortunate animals that had been experimented on were said to have escaped from their confines and run wild on the island. At least a few of those animals, it was suspected by locals on the island, could have been responsible for the tales of the exploits of the Chupacabra.
The Caribbean Primate Research Center
Accounts such as these, suggesting the Chupacabra was the result of gene-splicing experimentation by crazed scientists, proliferated. Notably, the CIA was also linked with this theoretical research center, and it was said that its interest was focused specifically upon social behavior studies related to monkey experimentation and Chupacabra attacks. However, it’s highly unlikely that even the very best scientists on the payroll of the United States government possess the skills to successfully mutate a friendly little monkey into a rampaging, blood-sucking killing machine with glowing eyes, razor-sharp claws, and spikes running down the length of its back. And yet there is no doubt that intriguing things of a genetic nature have occurred deep in the forest.
Furthermore, such a primate facility most assuredly does exist.
Created in 1938, it was (and still is) called the Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC), and it is a research, training, and education unit of the University of Puerto Rico, which attracts the attention of the U.S. government and receives funding and support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Research Resources. In the words of the CPRC itself, its mission revolves around “the study and use of non-human primates [chiefly, Indian rhesus monkeys] as models for studies of social and biological interactions and for the discovery of methods of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases that afflict humans.”
The Virology Laboratory of the CPRC is at the forefront of research to develop and simulate vaccines against SIV — or, as it is known in simpler terms, Monkey AIDS. It was this laboratory about which the locals had a great deal to say. And they weren’t afraid to say it either. This was the scenario: A number of monkeys had escaped from the center some years earlier, and were now wildly running riot and breeding in the dense woods. Most disturbing was the fact that the original escapees were those that had contracted SIV and were being used in experiments to try and find a cure for HIV — experiments that were, notably, of intense interest to certain elements of the U.S. government. In other words, infected monkeys were on the loose in Puerto Rico.
Caribbean Primate Research Center.