When reports surfaced of a strange hairless animal being shot by an American farmer in Kentucky in December, speculation was rife about what exactly the creature was. Some even suggested that it might be the legendary ‘chupacabra’ of Mexican and American folklore. Pictures circulated on the internet and on news broadcasts show a small four-legged creature with claws that is completely hairless and quite unlike anything local residents had ever seen before.
The mysterious chupacabra is said to be a dog-like creature which preys on livestock and drains their blood, particularly that of goats. The Spanish word chupacabra literally means ‘goat sucker’. There have been numerous reported sightings of the elusive creature all over the US in the past decade.
The farmer who shot it, said: “I just happened to walk out on the porch and saw something moving in the field and it looked unusual … well it’s something strange, so I got my rifle to shoot it, get a closer look. And I’m glad I did ‘cause I don’t know what it is.”
But closer inspection by a biologist revealed that the culprit was not el chupacabra after all, and was in fact a hairless racoon suffering from a similar condition to Alopecia in humans.
“It’s definitely a hideous creature,” said wildlife biologist Steven Dobey. “Without that fur it gives a whole new appearance as to what it is.”
Mystery hair loss affecting animals in Eastern United States
Previous sightings of the chupacabra have been revealed to be hairless coyotes, but it is thought that this racoon may be bald due to a genetic defect, trauma, or a virus. Recent years have seen an upsurge in the eastern United States of animals suffering from hair loss, so researchers are keen to study the racoon to get to the bottom of the matter.
Alopecia in animals is not uncommon, and recent cases to draw media attention have included that of Guru the chimpanzee who has lost all his hair in India’s Mysore Zoo, and a group of bears in Germany’s Leipzig Zoo who are suffering from patchy hair loss over their bodies due to Alopecia Areata. In both cases the exact causes for the hair loss are not known.
In humans too the direct cause of Alopecia is not known, though it is thought to be due to a disorder of the autoimmune system which causes the individual’s own body to attack healthy hair follicles, resulting in patchy hair loss. It has been suggested that the hair loss condition may be linked to stress and traumatic events.
Treatments for hair loss
Though the prognosis for animals suffering from the condition is unknown, for humans at least there are a range of hair loss treatments available. Minoxidil and Propecia are both licensed by the MHRA and approved by the FDA for the treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia. When used as part of a treatment programme along with close trichological monitoring, they can help to prevent hair loss and promote hair re-growth.