The many unexplained incidents of cattle mutilation across the vast cattle ranching industry in the U.S. (and also Argentina in South America) get plenty of attention from both the mainstream media – because of their costs and animal-sacrificing cult fears – and the paranormal media because of the rumors of alien abduction and government conspiracies. However, other mysterious cattle deaths without mutilations or lack of bleeding also occur, and a strange rash of over 40 deaths in Colorado has both medias, law enforcement and cattle ranchers puzzled. While many are quick to blame wolves, two features of these mysterious animal killings rule them out – no footprints and no teeth marks have been found. What is mysteriously murdering cows in Colorado and will it be stopped before it kills again?
“It’s perplexing; it’s confusing; it’s frustrating, trying to figure out exactly what occurred in this incident. We have no evidence of wolves in that area. That doesn’t mean they are not there.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Regional Director Travis Black tells Steamboat Pilot & Today his organization has been investigating at least 40 cattle deaths near Meeker, a small town in northwest Colorado, for a few months and finds them “perplexing” – that means he has no idea what is causing them. The reports started in October 2022 when 18 calves were found dead on grazing land in the White River National Forest. Because Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in the midst of a program to reintroduce wolves to the state, the animals were blamed immediately … even though the reintroduction isn’t scheduled to begin until late 2023. In a report to local officials and ranchers, Black said that trail cameras, howling surveys and aerial flights have not located any trace of wolves and that “We have no tracks.”
“Several carcasses had tails missing and marks consistent with canine teeth. The carcasses had hemorrhaging in locations where investigators are trained to look when distinguishing canine depredation from that of bear and lion."
Rancher Lenny Klinglesmith, who owned the 18 dead calves, disagrees. In an interview with The Fence Post in October, he shared gruesome photos (see them here – warning, they are grisly) which he said indicate “trauma indicative of a wolf pack killing” and claimed veterinarians agreed with his assessment. Black responded that only five calves showed “injuries, some contusions, some hemorrhaging that were somewhat consistent with wolf depredation,” and there were no wolf tracks anywhere and howling surveys came up empty.
“In the course of a howling survey, biologists will stop periodically and howl, and then wait for a response. If a response is heard, the biologists document how many wolves responded, whether they were adults or juveniles, how far away they appeared to be, and where the howls came from.”
For those not familiar with them, All Things Nature explains howling surveys and why they are an important tool for wolf surveys. While the long running battle between cattle ranchers and wolf re-introducers continued, more dead cattle were found in the Meeker area and there were again few signs of possible wolf attacks and no signs of wolves feeding on the carcasses.
“What we’re lacking (in the Meeker case), in my opinion, is that typical feeding behavior that we would see… typically wolves would come back and feed on a carcass.”
Black continued to be baffled by the cattle deaths. While wolves are the usual non-paranormal suspects, the scenarios seemed to also rule out Chupacabras since the cattle still had their blood and there were no teeth marks or footprints. The reports did not mention extraterrestrial abductions since there were no missing tongues or sex organs (a sign of mutilations that get blamed on aliens) and no reports of UFOs at the time of the killings. The lack of surgical cuts and organ removals seems to rule out both animal sacrificing cults and secret government programs, and the lack of tire tracks would eliminate rustlers. It is becoming more apparent why Colorado Parks and Wildlife and local officials are puzzled by the cattle deaths in Meeker.
“In the days following, we continued our annual gather back to ranch headquarters for fall shipping. Along the way, we started finding a dead calf every few miles. At this point we brought in veterinary help with the investigation to look at any other possibilities. These investigations brought clostridium chauvoei (black leg) to our attention.”
The next logical step would be to look for a medical cause for the deaths – a virus or bacterial infection, a poisoning, or something new caused by a previously unknown pathogen. Rancher Lenny Klinglesmith told The Fence Post that after he notified other ranchers of the mysterious deaths, they agreed to bring in veterinarians to look for alternative causes. One that you don’t see in cattle mutilation or cattle death cases is black leg disease caused by the clostridium chauvoei bacterium. Black leg (also called black quarter or quarter evil) occurs worldwide in young cattle, sheep, and goats.
“As we researched this clostridial disease and outbreaks in other regions of the world with large casualties, some similarities to this situation were recognized.”
The key word is “some.” Black leg itself is a mysterious disease – the soil-resident bacteria which causes it can survive for months or years in the muscles of a young animal without any visible symptoms. Then something unrelated happens to the calf – often just a bump – which causes a bruise or tissue hemorrhaging and degeneration which allows the spores to germinate, proliferate, and produce toxins that are responsible for most clinical signs and lesions of black leg … a fever develops, limbs swell significantly, the animal limps, the skin cracks open to expose tissue. Death comes quickly, often in under 12 hours, and some calves perish without any visible signs. Only a necropsy can expose the affected muscle covered with blackspots of dead tissue – hence the name ‘black leg’.
The veterinarians brought in from Colorado State University and Texas A&M looked at the corpses and gave this diagnosis:
“There is significant autolysis in the skeletal muscle sections which makes interpretation difficult. However, there is no evidence of necrosis or active inflammation to suggest black leg. There are no microscopic lesions in the tissues examined that explain the cause of death in this animal. There is no evidence of inflammation, necrosis or degeneration.”
So, it was neither wolves nor black leg disease nor any other natural or paranormal causes of the deaths of over 40 calves in Meeker, Colorado, in just a few months. Then … what killed them? Klinglesmith offered this conclusion to The Fence Post:
"Therefore, the most likely scenario would be the following: An apparent canine attack may have triggered the onset of a still-inconclusive cause of death.”
So, a canine attack, but not a wolf, triggered a fatal disease that was not black leg but is still unknown. Klinglesmith says he and other ranchers changed vaccines to protect their calves against more diseases. Does this sound like a ‘throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks’ approach? Black says there was no evidence of dogs around the carcasses.
That leaves … mysteries, fears and suspicions. The wolf haters will continue to blame wolves. The wildlife officials will continue to look for pathogens while reintroducing the wolves. The ranchers will scramble to cover everything and hope one will stop the scourge. Many others will retreat to aliens, conspiracies, Chupacabras, cults and other unusual causes.
We’ll continue to keep an eye on the mysterious cow deaths of Meeker.