Showing posts with label livestock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label livestock. Show all posts

December 20, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 3

(Part 1 here. Part 2 here.)

Let's return to Manuel Sanchez's dead calves over in the San Luis Valley. And let's think about wildlife rather than mad cultists, cow-snatching aliens, or secret government agencies.
Let's make "surgical incisions" with Occam's razor.

First, although I am not a rancher, some of my relatives are, and we have talked about how predators and scavengers deal with cattle.

Second, I grew up with big-game hunting, so I know a little big about what happens when you leave a large dead animal out in the wild—in particular, what happens to the gut pile (the internal organs, intestines, etc.).

1. Manuel Sanchez says he lost four calves, one week. Right there I would wonder about mountain lions, which typically eat a deer every week to ten days. Would a large calf be similar enough to a mulie doe as a food source?

2. "Their innards gone. Tongues sliced out. Udders carefully removed. Facial skin sliced and gone. Eyes cored away."

Watch out for those verbs: "sliced" and "cored" and the adverb "carefully." They might imply the use of tools and make you think of human perpetrators. 

Predators such as wolves (not in Colorado in any number) and mountain lions go for the underbelly when opening a carcass—no bones in the way.

3. "Not a drop of blood on the ground or even on the remaining skin."  (more after the jump).

December 19, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 2

(Part 1 here.)

The sudden decrease in mutilation reports in the 1980s suggests that what changed was not the phenomenon but the narrative(s) that explained it. True believers like Linda Howe kept telling their stories, but the news media, at least, lost interest in a story that was rural, weird, and had no resolution.

Perhaps the nearest thing to resolution was the Rommel Report, written by former FBI agent Rommel, working as consultant to New Mexico's First Judicial District. His conclusion: "scavenger-induced damage"

The FBI has other PDFs of documents related to mutilation investigations, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Hardcore UFO "researchers" maintained their position. Note the categorical statement in the first sentence. (more after the jump)

December 17, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 1

On Nov. 26, 2009  story moved on the AP wire (I know that is obsolete terminology. So sue me.) about "mysterious cattle mutilations."

Cattle mutilations in the San Luis Valley. Oh my, here we go again.

The San Luis Valley of southern Colorado has a reputation for "high strangeness." (Did I mention I was born there? It's true.)

Colorado was central to the "cattle mutilation" wave of the mid-1970s, which actually stretched from Alberta to New Mexico. But were cattle actually mutilated?

During that first "wave," my curiosity about it contributed to my desire to be a newspaper reporter. But by the time I actually was one, the "wave" was over, although I did write one retrospective story in the Colorado Springs Sun circa 1981.

My better piece, "Mutilation Madness," was published in Fate magazine in June 1988. It is not available online. Perhaps I should scan it.

But back to the 1970s ...

The "cattle mutilation" phenomenon, I decided, had two aspects: One was a failure of journalism. The other was observers' tendency to wrap a narrative around just a few shaky points of data. (More after the jump.)

March 29, 2009

Cattle Mutilations: Déjà Vu All Over Again

I almost hate to write this post. It's déjà vu all over again.

Such was my reaction to a recent headline in the Pueblo Chieftain: "Two More Cows Found Mutilated."

Eastern Colorado was central to the "cattle mutilation" meme of the 1970s. I was younger and wishing that one day I would be a newspaper reporter so that I could really learn what was going on.

Later, after the furor died down, I did write for the (now defunct) Colorado Springs Sun. And at one point I assigned myself a retrospective article about "mutilation madness" that eventually spawned a feature in dear old Fate magazine.*

I write "meme" for a reason, and the Chieftain article illustrates it perfectly. The news media tend to follow these "rules" of reporting topics that are pre-judged to be non-serious.

1. Assume that these events are paranormal, inexplicable, or silly.

2. Treat anyone--such as a self-proclaimed UFO expert--as a legitimate source.

It happened in the 1970s, and it's happening now. The only part that is missing is the post-Vietnam War narrative in which crazed Huey pilots conduct crazed nighttime mutilation missions to get the adrenaline rush that they got in 'Nam. (Think Iraq and give it time.)

When I did become a journalist, I decided that the reason that editors did not take the whole cattle mutilation narrative seriously was that

  • it was rural
  • it did not fit into a neat box (sports, crime, politics)
  • it was rural
  • it was difficult to cover, and there were no official spokespeople
  • it was rural
  • it was non-serious, "soft," involving UFOs and what-not.
Consequently, the reporters involved were not necessarily the A-Team. At the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, the main reporter was a middle-aged feature writer, a friend of my dad's, who had mastered the art of being inconspicuous and inoffensive. She never rocked the boat and always wrote down what her sources told her. (She did have a more interesting life outside the newsroom, however.) Her stories were treated more as entertainment than as "hard news" -- and yes, the blatant phallicism of that term is entirely appropriate.

What strikes me about this newest story is the totally uncritical acceptance of the old 1970s narrative.

The mutilations are carried out with "surgical precision." Oh yeah? Did you ask any surgeons, veterinary or otherwise? Did you know that a cut in flesh, left to sit in the sun for a day or two, will swell and look smoother (more precise), even if made with canine teeth?

There is "no blood." Have you studied what happens to blood in a corpse, how it pools at the lowest point and coagulates?

And who is interviewed? Some UFO expert.

Who is not interviewed? An expert on four-footed predators. A specialist in veterinary necropsy (your local vet is not a specialist). An expert on narrative frames applied to inexplicable events, such as "satanic panics, " witch hunts, and other folklore.

The last is perhaps the most important. The woo-woo factor, you know.

A couple of days after the Chieftain article, another piece appeared in the Denver Post: "Wild Dogs Terrorize Eastern Plains."

Delivery drivers have been stranded in their vehicles, cattle stampeded and stockmen have lost sheep, goats, lambs, calves and even pet dogs, county officials say.

Do you suppose there might be a connection? There could be other explanations, equally mundane.

But once the woo-woo narrative frame is imposed, events are seen as strange and mysterious, revealing our fears about satanists, Vietnam veterans, or whatever the latest scary thing is.

* Chas S. Clifton, “Mutilation Madness,” Fate, June 1988: 60-70.

December 14, 2008

Southern Rockies Wolf Politics Heat Up

Via Cat Urbigkit, a report on the usual conflicts over proposed wolf reintroduction in the Southern Rockies.

WildEarth Guardians recently petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a wolf recovery plan for the region. Re-establishing a population of the carnivores is crucial to bringing ecosystems back into balance, according to the group.

Not surprisingly, the Colorado Cattlemen's Association feels otherwise.

Coincidentally, M. and I were watching "Wolves in Paradise," a PBS program about livestock producers and (or versus) reintroduced wolves in an area north of Yellowstone National Park.

One rancher who spoke hopefully of "detente" and coexistence with the wolves still ended up having his employees shoot a couple -- and later calling in the federal "wildlife services" people to take out some more. The program offered no happy ending for everyone.