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Close Encounters of the Mute Kind

The recent posting of the FBI’s “cattle mutilation file” to its new website, The Vault, has led to a rejuvenated flurry of debate on the nature of, and purpose behind such mutilations – even though the FBI actually declassified this particular collection of documents way back in 1989, and which I published in their entirety in my 2003 book, Strange Secrets. Nevertheless, the fact that the mute-file is getting a new lease on life is a very good thing. But, one of the issues that has long puzzled me is the assumption on the part of many that such weird killings of animals only occur within the borders of the United States. In reality, this is far from the case…

On April 11, 1977, no less than fifteen wild ponies were found dead at Cherry Brook Valley, Dartmoor, Devonshire, England, by a Tavistock storekeeper named Alan Hicks, who had been crossing the wild and desolate moors with his children. It was not until mid-July, however, that the media began reporting on the incident in-depth. Newspaper articles in my possession demonstrate that the story traveled as far as South Africa; however, consider the following story, extracted from Britain’s Western Morning News of July 13, 1977:

“Fears that the mystery deaths of fifteen ponies near a Dartmoor beauty spot were caused by visitors from space were being probed by a Torbay team yesterday. Armed with a Geiger counter, metal detectors and face masks, four men are investigating what leading animal authorities admit seems a ‘totally abnormal happening,’ and are hoping their equipment will throw a new light on the three month old mystery. While other investigators have looked for signs of malnutrition, disease or poisoning – or even gunshot wounds – the four men are seeking proof that extra-terrestrials were responsible for the deaths.”

The newspaper continued: “‘If a spacecraft has been in the vicinity, there may still be detectable evidence,’ says the Team Leader, Mr. John Wyse, founder of the Devon UFO Center. His team is investigating the Postbridge mystery because the ponies’ deaths have similarities with unsolved cases in the United States. Many of the Dartmoor ponies – all found within a few hundred yards of each other in the Cherry Brook Valley below Lower White Tor – had broken bones. ‘Horses and cattle have been found in the United States in strange circumstances with the bones smashed or the bodies drained of blood,’ said Mr. Wyse. ‘Our members have already made a preliminary investigation and we know the bodies are now decomposed, but there may still be some evidence of an extra-terrestrial visit.’”

The Western Morning News also quoted the secretary of the Livestock Protection Society as saying: “I still suspect that something dramatic happened – something very strange indeed. No one can give any logical explanation. One theory is that the ponies died of red worm – but that does not explain the broken necks and legs.”

Over the course of the next few days, further possibilities were explored. A second source from the Livestock Protection Society stated: “My theory is that the ponies were in a very enclosed valley. There was a waterfall at the head of the valley, and they may have been caught in a sudden burst of water and knocked against the boulder.”

According to the Dartmoor Pony Society, however, they felt that the ponies had probably died on various parts of the moors and had been simultaneously dumped together by a farmer unwilling to bear the cost of their burial. A spokesperson for the Livestock Protection Society responded thus: “One wonders if the people who say this sort of thing can possibly have been to the valley and seen the distribution of the ponies or of the terrain.”

Numerous other theories were postulated at the time; however, the trail tailed off, and, largely, went utterly cold until 1991 when Jonathan Downes, the larger-than-life, and Rubeus Hagrid-lookalike, Director of the Center for Fortean Zoology – the world’s only full-time group dedicated to the study of such beasts as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabras – began to carefully probe the strange events.

Jon and I became good friends a number of years ago and have spent a great deal of time on the road investigating everything from crashed UFOs to vampires, and Bigfoot to lake-monsters. And so, when I expressed my interest to Jon about trying to resolve the animal-mutilation mystery, he quickly and enthusiastically filled me in on the next part of the story; which saw Jon hot on the trail of the puzzle, and goes as follows.

In 1991, Jon told me that he succeeded in tracking down some of those individuals quoted by the newspapers some fourteen years previously. Curiously, he detected a distinct reluctance on their collective part to talk. Even more bizarre, one of those same individuals – who adhered to a non-paranormal explanation for the events at issue – claimed that a research colleague of Jon had been “pestering her day and night,” when, in reality, the only contact had been a solitary telephone call.

As Jon rightly noted to me, this was highly-reminiscent of the experiences of the writer John Keel, who stated in his now-classic book, The Mothman Prophecies: “I kept a careful log of the crank calls I received and eventually cataloged the various tactics of the mysterious pranksters. Some of these tactics are so elaborate they could not be the work of a solitary nut harassing UFO believers in his spare time. Rather it all appears to be the work of either paranormal forces, or a large and well-financed operation by a large and well-financed organization with motives that evade me.”

As the years progressed, Jon continued to dig into the affair, and from time to time, new data and leads continued to surface. But, in the long-term, it must be admitted that the British animal mutilations of the late-1970s remain as mysteriously unexplained as do their U.S. counterparts currently highlighted at the FBI’s Vault.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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