By Justin Ward, June 15 2006
UT professor Pamela Owen can add one more title to her resume: educator, scientist and supernatural investigator.
The producers of "Mystery Hunters," an educational TV program for kids, asked Owen to help identify bones reported to belong to the mythical chupacabra. The chupacabra, whose name means goat-sucker in Spanish, is a fabled creature which attacks and mutilates live-stock, sucking the blood of its prey.
The bones belong to rancher Devin Macanally who shot the animal while it was attacking chickens on his ranch in Elmendorf. Photos of the animal, which later became known as the "Elmendorf Beast" show a small, hairless, dog-like creature.
Owen, who holds a doctorate in mammalogy with a specialization in carnivores, said that when she first heard about the "Elmendorf Beast," she agreed with biologists' initial findings that it was some kind of coyote with severe mange.
Owen's suspicions were later confirmed when the show's producers e-mailed her a photo of the creature's exhumed skull. Owen, who has been identifying bones for the Texas Memorial Museum for six years, was able to recognize the skull almost instantly.
"I wrote back and said, 'Nice coyote.'" she said.
Owen said she could understand how an average person could mistake the creature for a new species.
"What [Macanally] described was certainly not like any coyote," she said. "It was this hairless blue-skinned thing with disfigured teeth. This was a sick animal."
What is called supernatural phenomena can often be explained within the context of a natural world, Owen said.
"I still think the stories are great, but they are based on interesting natural phenomena," she said.
The investigation of the "Elmendorf Beast" was only one part of the episode. The show's teenage investigators also went to Puerto Rico, where the chupacabra myth originated, said Stephen Lawson, a researcher for "Mystery Hunters."
Owen said that she was glad to take part in the show, because it is a way to teach children about the scientific method.
The program will air on Discovery Channel for Kids at the beginning of the fall season.