'Mysterious' Cow Mutilations Spur Alien Theories

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The mysterious deaths of three cows on a remote Missouri ranch has spawned a variety of weird theories, from Satanic activity to aliens.

According to ABC’s 10 News:

Rancher Lyn Mitchell “found the first mutilated cow in December 2011. “She had obviously been cut on the side of her jaw,” Mitchell said. “Her tongue was gone, her ear was gone.” She initially assumed the animal had fallen victim to teenagers or was part of a sacrificial ritual, until earlier this month. Mitchell made the next discovery on July 9. “I looked first to see her tongue was gone, then immediately noticed the udder had been completely removed,” Mitchell said. The reproductive organs were gone too, Mitchell said…. Finally on July 19, Mitchell found the third cow. She said its heart was exposed, its teats were cut off and its tongue was cut out. Mitchell said the cuts all looked surgical with clean, precise incisions. And in all three deaths, Mitchell said there was no blood despite the animals’ gaping wounds.”

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It certainly sounds creepy and mysterious. So what’s going on?

Mysterious Mutilations?

Mitchell’s proposed explanations, though bizarre on their face, are not that far-fetched in the world of paranormal and conspiracy beliefs. That one or more people (it’s not clear why teenagers were singled out) might harm a cow is certainly possible, but very unlikely. Surely most people — and especially most teenagers, even ones in rural Henry County, Mo. — have better things to do than drive to a remote ranch, park their vehicle, cross a fence, hike to an isolated area where one or more cows are grazing, kill one, and then cut out the animal’s tongue, ear, or udder with a surgical instrument — especially during one of the worst heat waves in years.

The same is true for the idea that the cows died in some sacrificial ritual. Animal sacrifice has historically been a part of many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, though in modern America the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santeria. However these groups carefully choose, groom, and prepare their own sacrificial animals — typically goats, chickens, and sheep; they don’t pick them at random from ranches and sacrifice them on the spot. As for Satanists, there is no evidence that true Satanic cults exist, much less tour rural midwest ranches looking for cows to kill and remove body parts from.

Then of course there’s the theory that aliens in spaceships are responsible for killing cows and removing their organs. This claim, which has circulated for decades, raises a curious question: Just how many tongues, ears, and udders do these extraterrestrials need to answer whatever pressing research questions they have about Earth’s cows?

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Surely any alien civilization advanced enough to master interstellar travel is competent enough to correctly analyze these cow parts the first time. After the first few hundred cow tongues and udders have been collected, what important information about cow taste buds or bovine teat mechanics could possibly elude the alien scientists after so much research?

Scientific Answers

The problem with this line of reasoning is that just because you can’t explain something doesn’t mean that the correct explanation must be something mysterious like Satanic cults or aliens. Had Mitchell consulted an expert on animal predation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she would likely have come to a different — and much more mundane — conclusion.

Often so-called “mysterious” wounds are actually created by ordinary predators and scavengers, both large (such as vultures, raven, and crows) and small (such as blowflies and maggots). In many cases, what has been described by ranchers and others as cuts with “surgical” precision turned out to be ordinary decomposition.

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

This case is also typical in that the animals are said to have been drained of blood. This, too, has a scientific explanation. Blood will naturally begin to clot and coagulate after the animal dies, creating the appearance of a disappearance of blood. The blood of course hasn’t gone anywhere. It has just partly dried up, and the water content has evaporated—especially likely given the sweltering heat that has baked the state. 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.”

So what did kill three of Mitchell’s cows over the past three years? Cattle deaths are not unheard of, and can be caused by many things including lightning, dehydration, illness, injury, and predators. Mitchell believes that her cows did not die a natural death, however, and has vowed to install surveillance cameras on her ranch to identify the culprits. If the answer is anything but natural causes, we will likely hear about it.

Image: Corbis