Who (or What) is Mutilating Cattle in Colorado?


Ranchers in Colorado are on edge following the latest of a series of bizarre attacks on horses and livestock.

According to an article in the Denver Post:

In recent weeks, a horse was shot and had its head skinned at the LeValley Ranch property, which is part of the Esty Ranch holdings about eight miles east of Gunnison. The horse also had its tongue and anus removed. Less than two months ago, a prize heifer in the same heavily traveled area just off of Colorado 50 and Colorado 114 had its tongues, lips and anus removed. “To me it looks like a ritualistic issue. Either that, or they are high on drugs. There is just no logical explanation for it,” said Esty Ranch owner Mike Clarke.

The foreman on the ranch stated that though they assumed the animals had been shot, no bullets had been found in the wounds, which made it all the more mysterious. This led the ranchers to suspect that the animals had also been stabbed by unknown assailants.

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Cattle mutilations have plagued ranchers in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and other parts of the Southwest for decades. Many explanations have been put forth, including extraterrestrial aliens, religious cults and chupacabras.

So far the favored theory in this case is that the killings are the product of a sacrificial ritual. Why else would someone shoot and mutilate a horse?

Animal sacrifice has historically been a part of many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. In America today the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religious groups, such as Santeria. Though extremely unlikely, followers of Santeria might have happened to be driving through rural Colorado when they decided to make a pit stop to sacrifice a horse.

Of course, it’s possible that one or more of the deaths were intentional. Sadly, cases of random strangers and sick pranksters shooting, torturing and sometimes even mutilating pets and livestock are not unheard of.

But it’s also possible that many or all of the deaths were perfectly natural.

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Natural Explanations

In many cases mundane explanations have been found for initially mysterious animal deaths. For example ranchers and police in Colorado’s El Paso county were baffled by the strange deaths of 16 horses and mules in a pasture in 2005.

Like the animals at the Esty Ranch, authorities at first believed that the animals had been shot because some carcasses were found with what appeared to be bullet wounds. No other obvious injuries or marks were found on the animals, making the deaths all the more mysterious. A more thorough medical examination revealed no trace of bullets in the wounds. The injuries were superficial and could not have killed the animals.

Finally veterinary investigators concluded that most of the animals, if not all of them, had in fact been killed by lightning. The mysterious “bullet wounds” never existed.

Often so-called “mysterious” wounds are actually created by ordinary predators and scavengers, both large — vultures, raven, and crows — and small — blowflies and maggots. In several cases, what had at first been described by laypeople as cuts with “surgical” (or even “laser-like”) precision turned out to be ordinary decomposition.

Carrion animals eat soft tissues of the body cavities first — the mouth, anus, nose, and eyes. That’s why those are the parts that would be discovered “missing” in an animal discovered dead.

Without knowing what killed an animal, it’s impossible to determine the exact time of death. Most “mysteriously killed” animals are found within a few days, which is plenty of time for an animal’s soft parts to be completely gone.

Sometimes the animals are said to have been drained of blood. This, too, has a forensic explanation.

Blood will naturally begin to clot and coagulate after the animal dies, creating the appearance of a loss of blood. The blood of course hasn’t gone anywhere. It has just partly dried up, and the water content has evaporated. Unless the animal is professionally necropsied, it will appear that the carcass has been drained of blood — a process detailed in my book, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore.

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While ranchers and police await more definitive answers, the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association has offered a $500 reward for any information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the livestock deaths.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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