The morning of Tuesday, July 30th 2013, I was contacted again by rancher Miller from Trinidad, Colorado and was informed he found another mutilated animal on his ranch. This time it was a 5 day old Red Angus calf located alone in an adjacent field at least 200 yards away from the rest of the herd. This is the rancher’s seventh mutilation overall and the fourth this year.
The rancher monitors all the new calves on a daily basis until they are a couple of weeks old when he knows they’re healthy enough not to be watched. The morning of the 30th, his count was down by one, so he started looking around the area where the herd was that morning and noticed the mother standing alone outside the herd staring off in the distance. This puzzled the rancher, so he started walking in the direction the mother was looking towards, and eventually found her calf.
The dead calf was laying by itself showing no signs of struggling and no signs of blood on the ground or on the hide. The carcass was facing towards the East and appeared as if it was placed there and with no signs of drag marks or entrails nearby. Not quite sure at this time why most of my animals are facing east when the ranchers find them, but I have a couple of theories I can’t share at this time.
The only unknown damage to the animal was a four-inch hole in the anal area. Once again no blood was seen on the hide or on the ground near the animal. After briefly speaking to rancher Miller over the phone from Colorado Springs, I made the decision to drive to Trinidad that day in hopes this animal would be a good specimen for a lab necropsy. The doctors at Colorado State University Veterinary Lab had told me the best specimen for a lab necropsy would be a carcase less than 24 hours old, this animal seemed to fit that requirement. So off I went leaving work early, driving by my house to pick up my field kits, and start my 2 hour drive to rancher Miller’s house near Trinidad.
I arrived around 3:30pm and the rancher and I drove off to the site where the animal was found. I asked him if it was common for a calf to be separated from its mother at that young age, and the rancher said no. The mother is very protective and will fight off coyotes when her calf is in danger. The most common time a coyote or pack of coyotes will kill a calf is when the mother is actually delivering her calf. As the calf is being born, the coyotes take advantage of the mother’s inability to fight during the birth, and they’ll literally grab the calf as it’s exiting the birth canal. Due to the stress of birthing, the mother is unable to get up fast enough to protect her young. But when the calf is up on all fours, the mother keeps it close to her and near the herd for protection.
One question kept haunting me over and over again. Why was the mother so far from her calf and afraid to approach it? Generally if the mother’s calf is dead due to natural causes, she’ll stay by its side restless while bellowing. This was not the case, the mother was afraid to go near her calf and stayed close to the herd, yet she was compelled to have her eyes focused on the location her calf was laying. This is very strange.
After examining the carcass of the calf and the location it was found, the decision was made to take the long journey to Fort Collins and deliver the calf to the lab. Because this was the rancher’s seventh mutilation, I needed to be sure the animal didn’t die of natural causes. So off I drove with the calf in the back of my truck and started my 4 hour drive to university.
At 10:30pm, I arrived at Colorado State University lab in Fort Collins. Luckily for me the lab has a 24 hour drop off time to bring in animals. This is one of the reasons I picked this lab, and the other main reason is, it’s also the best veterinary lab in the state of Colorado. That is a biggie! After dropping off the animal to the late night attendant and filling out the proper paper work, I started my 2 hour drive back home to Colorado Springs arriving around 1:30am. What a day.
The next day at 2:30pm July 31st, I got a call from the lab doctor (name on file) and we discussed his findings while I asked other questions.
He saw the tongue was missing and the edge of the unknown cut was jagged. I asked him if he had ever seen this before, and he said no, that it appeared a little odd.
He saw the complete digestive track was missing from the stomach to the intestines including one of the kidneys. It looked as if they were all pulled out through a 10cm hole in the anal area. I asked him if this was common of what scavengers do, and once again he said he’s never seen this before and thought it was odd too!
There was no blood in the heart, but that could have been due to time of death when the heart was contracted.
Part of the lungs were inflated which meant the animal was alive and healthy at one time.
There was a 10cm hole in the anal area, the rectum was gone, and there was no blood around that area.
The pelvis was protruding through the 10cm hole.
Both eyes appeared to have been pecked out by birds. (This is common and was once a misconception of a standard mutilation.)
No predator or scavenger bites were located anywhere on the carcass.
Signs of maggets and larva were noticable. ( Larva eggs hatch within 24 hours so this carcass would have been older than 24 hours and probably closer to 30.
No excess amount of blood was found in the cavity of the carcass. (Generally a calf will have over 1 liter of blood.)
No cause of death determined.
Once thing that bothered me about the death was the noticeable lack of hemorrhaging and the lack of blood in the heart. If there were no noticeable signs of hemorrhaging, would this account for the lack of blood in the heart? If the heart was still pumping when the calf died, there should be signs of hemorrhaging. The calf could have pumped all the blood out of the heart on its last breath, then a scavenger could have come in later, but pull the complete digestive track out? Pull the tongue out? If this was a common trait with scavenger feeding, then the lab doctor wouldn’t have said he’s never seen that before.
Note: The lab doctor’s findings on the official report reflect just the necropsy lab results based on what they observed. It states what they found during the necropsy but not necessarily what’s missing. As professionals they won’t give their opinions officially because as scientists they must stay neutral in their work. Even though the doctor stated he had not seen certain characteristics in this animal compared to other animals in his career, we still have to leave the possibility open to natural scavenger causes for science’s sake.
The area in the field where the carcass was found showed slight signs of a possible anomaly on the terrain. I took soil samples which were sent out for analysis. At the time of this blog, the soil results are not available probably due to a possible back log of work at the lab. We’ve had some major weather issues here in Colorado lately.
The following is the official necropsy results from the university, any differences between the official report and my conversation with the lab doctor are due to added questions I asked after the report was filed. All expenses were paid by me, and I never charge the ranchers for my time in any of my investigations.
A neonatal bull calf was submitted for necropsy examination. The soft horn (slipper) was partially present on the front hooves. The carcass was severely autolyzed with marked subcutaneous and intramuscular emphysema. The eyes were bilaterally absent. The hair coat was extensively covered with maggot eggs and larvae. Maggot eggs and larvae were present in the oral cavity and in and around the rectum. The rostral two thirds of the tongue was absent and the remaining margins were jagged. No hemorrhage was observed at the edge of the remaining tongue. There was an approximately 10 cm in diameter hole around the regions of the rectum with irregular margins and no associated hemorrhage. The pelvis was partially extruded through the defect in the rectum. The skeletal muscle around the right femur was absent and there was no associated hemorrhage. The only abdominal viscera observed were the liver, left kidney, and a portion of the
abomasum. No significant lesions were observed in the thoracic or abdominal viscera.
Prelim: 7/31/13 CF
Full report: 8/1/13
L a b o r a t o r y F i n d i n g s / D i a g n o s i s
Standard Report(m) – 7/22/2010 Page 1