National Institute for Discovery Science


George E. Onet, D.V.M., Ph. D.

Animal mutilation cases have been reported worldwide since the early 1960s. They have been accompanied by all kinds of speculations regarding their nature. Journalists focused on these cases with great deal of sensationalism that sometimes distorted realities (1,3,5,7,9,13). Their circumstantial association with unusual lights, unidentified helicopters, and other sightings conferred such events with an aura of mystery, which had a negative impact on further scientific study by veterinary diagnostic specialists.

Some veterinary practitioners have decided not to discuss the mutilations publicly. This is because the subject seemed to be too controversial and predisposed to subjective interpretations. Veterinarians were also afraid of being ridiculed by their peers, in case they had reported unusual findings.

The incidence of animal mutilation cases is variable. They have been reported in different parts of the world, such as: Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Japan, the Canary Islands, Canada, and the United States (6,16,17,18,20).

In the U.S., animal mutilations have been mentioned in most of the states (see Chart No. 1), with different occurrences (2,10,11,12, 13,14, 5,17,18,20, 23). In 1967, mutilation waves were reported in Pennsylvania and Kansas and were followed by a Midwest wave in 1975-76, with cases occurring in 15 states, from South Dakota and Montana to New Mexico and Texas (4). In a two-year period, (1975-77) in two Colorado counties alone, there were nearly two hundred reports (17). It is estimated that nationwide, there are at least two thousand a year (18).

Many animal mutilations seem to remain unreported because of the direct financial costs induced by necropsies and laboratory examinations, the financial repercussions from bankers who have outstanding loans against the herd, the ranchers' fear about being ridiculed by the community, and the ranchers basic nature of being self-reliant and independent. Many others simply want to avoid the attention and publicity.

Endeavors to explain the cause of animal mutilations displaying strikingly similar patterns led to a variety of theories, but few pertinent answers (24). Among such assumptions was also the involvement of satanic cults. However, despite the large numbers of cases and the participation of official investigators, no person has ever been arrested for crimes related to such deaths.

In the late 1970s, the economic impact and public fear triggered an FBI investigation resulting in an almost 300-page report, published in 1979, which concluded that animal predators were responsible for all the mutilations. This official explanation did not satisfy the ranchers and some investigators. One New Mexico senator complained that the entire study was nothing more than a whitewash (4). Others who approached this subject remained skeptical about any anomalous participation in such events (21,22).

Chart No. 1: Incidence of animal mutilations in the U. S.


Due to their special pathology patterns, mutilation cases are often dismissed as the work of predators and scavengers, without being closely examined by veterinarians or diagnostic pathologists, and without samples having been collected for further laboratory tests, aiming to establish the real cause of death.

Among the most frequently reported facts, in connection with suspected mutilations are:

  • Sudden death. Animals are usually found dead, with no obvious cause of death. Often they have been observed just hours or a short time before, in good health. Especially when more than one animal is discovered dead in similar circumstances, this calls the attention of the owners.

  • Missing parts of the body. In most of cases these are soft tissues, such as lips, tongue, skin and muscles of the lower jaw, rectum and/or genitalia (vulva, vagina, sometimes the entire uterus, even in pregnancy stage), penis, scrotum (with or without testicles), eyeball (with or without eyelids; usually only one, on the upper side, when the animal is laying on lateral decubitus), tail, mammary gland (the whole udder or teats only), and ears. Due to their nature, location and accessibility, the removal of these tissues is attributed in most of cases to scavengers or predators.

  • In many cases it was reported that missing tissues had been removed by surgical precision, leaving relatively regular wounds (circular or oval). In other cases the edges of the skin appeared uniformly serrated (16). Dr. John Altshuler, a Colorado MD pathologist, has examined over thirty mutilation cases since 1989 and found in skin tissues from the excision lines, lesions consistent with overheated collagen and hemoglobin or with sharp dissection (17). The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Corvallis (Oregon State University) established in a 1991 case that skin sections from a suspect mutilated steer showed lesions consistent with electro-surgical excision. While numerous bacteria could be found on the surface of the skin, the areas of coagulation necrosis did not show any bacterial load. Such microscopic tissue and cell alterations correlate with macroscopic observation of hardened dark wound edges (19). But these latter changes could be attributed to progressive desiccation of tissues exposed to evaporation and oxidation of hemoglobin.

  • No relevant tracks around the dead animals. Usually, during the agony, animals pedal and have contractions of different other body parts, which cause characteristic tracks on the soil or grass. In some instances, three or more animals were found dead in a straight row on the ground, in a similar position, as if they walked one after the other in the same direction, when sudden death occurred. Weather conditions and the lack of electrocution signs excluded, however, the possibility of a lightning strike cause.

  • No signs of ante-mortem struggle. When predators attack domestic animals they usually go for the rear quarters and nose. Around the hocks and the nose a great deal of tooth marks can be found. Because the tissue tearing arteries and veins are open and, more or less important bleeding takes place, which is easy to be seen, especially on a snow-covered ground. They are accompanied by struggle marks on the soil and surrounding vegetation.

  • The skin or soil in the vicinity of the wounds do not indicate traces of blood. The first observers at the site, in most cases the animal owners, presumably expect to see a lot of blood around the animal or remaining tissues. The lack of blood could be explained, in normal conditions, by the early intra-vitam coagulation of the blood, so that by the time the post-mortem scavenge takes place, no blood flows from the tissues. More difficult to explain are the findings according to which the blood is missing from the circulatory system. In 1971, an Idaho veterinarian, who necropsied an allegedly mutilated horse, found that all internal organs, including the heart and the lungs had been completely desiccated. Parenchymal organs do not usually express blood at compression when the animal died because of an internal or external massive bleeding, mostly caused by accidents followed by intense hemorrhage. If no sign of such a situation was present, then the finding is peculiar.

  • During the investigation of mutilation cases farmers or other observers noted strange behavior of other animals in the herd or of wild animals in the proximity. Domestic animals seemed to be visibly agitated, fearful, and avoided getting close to the dead animal. If there was wooded areas around, they tended to hide. Wild animals, especially scavengers, such as coyotes, wolves, foxes, dogs, skunks, badgers, and bobcats, were reported to keep their distance for days, without touching the carcasses. If the reluctance of domestic animals to get close is easy to explain, that of scavengers is difficult to understand.
    • It would be interesting to know how many of the thousands of reportedly mutilated animals have been examined by veterinarians �allegedly very few�and when they were, how many times were samples collected for laboratory examinations? If tissues were indeed removed by "surgical precision" as claimed, were samples taken for histology? Even if skin and other tissues macroscopically look precisely cut, only microscopic examination can prove that no destruction through tearing or chewing was present. To be credible, an assumption needs to be confirmed by acceptable scientific research. If repeated scientifically sound examinations prove the same pattern, the results are trustworthy.

      Positive results in explaining and studying animal mutilations can be obtained only through cooperation between animal owners, veterinarians, official authorities, and laboratory diagnostic specialists. Getting to the bottom of such questions is not an easy task and requires both thorough and complex investigations. But it is worth the time and resources in order to shed some light on this subject.

      If veterinarians are not asked by animal owners to clarify the nature of suspicious lesions considered to be responsible for the death of animals it can be assumed that an educational problem is involved. Ranchers are members of several organizations that could have a major impact on encouraging them to rely on veterinarians as the best source of professional assistance. It is in the ranchers' best economic interest to have competent answers to their questions from the best source: the veterinarian. He is the most qualified person to offer proper services in animal health and well being. As long as some animal owners do not understand that pertinent answers to such questions can be offered only by persons with adequate knowledge and training, it is difficult to expect to have investigations on animal mutilations properly conducted. Unfortunately for veterinarians, many ranchers continue to ask for veterinary expertise only when there is no other possibility.

      Some veterinarians find it much easier and convenient during their necropsy work to come up with diagnostics based on best probability, even if no sufficient evidence is present. They know that any death has a cause. If it is sudden death, the best of several possibilities are bloat, poison, natural toxins, accidental internal hemorrhages, electrocution, acute or supra-acute infections, etc. It is well known that necropsies do not always provide sufficient data for a definitive diagnosis. In some cases significant lesions simply do not have enough time to install or they are so discrete that they remain unnoticed. In such situations the diagnostic is presumptive or based on second guess. As a result, confirmation laboratory tests are necessary, even if they only help rule out certain possibilities.

      Selected References

      1. Andrus W. H. Jr.,1983. Cattle Mutilation that Defy Conventional Explanation, MUFON 1983 UFO Symposium Proceedings, Seguin, TX, 112�117.
      2. Benke R., 1994. Cattle Mutilations on Rise in Northern New Mexico, Albuquerque Journal, Aug.14.
      3. Blann T.R., 1976. The Mysterious Link Between UFOs and Animal Mutilations, UFO Report 3, 1, 18�21, 69�70, 72.
      4. Brokesmith P., 1995. UFO: The complete sightings, Appendix 6, Animal Mutilations, Barns & Noble, Inc. New York, U.S.A., 162�163.
      5. Carpenter J. S., 1992. Letters: Cattle Mutilations and UFOs, International UFO Reporter, 17, 3, 20�21.
      6. Clark, J., 1974. Strange Cases of Cattle Killings, Fate, 27, 8, 79�90.
      7. Clark J., 1980. Cattle Mutilations: The Deepening Mystery, Fate, Pt. I, 33,2, 61�68; Pt. II, 33, 3, 66�72.
      8. Clark J.1984. Books, News and Reviews: Reality Mutilation, Fate, 37, 10, 99�102.
      9. Clifton C. S.,1988. Mutilation Madness, Fate, 41, 6, 60�70.
      10. Cornett R. C., Randle K. D., 1975. Feedback: Cattle Mutilations in Minnesota, UFO Investigator, 4.
      11. Derr J. S., Sprinkle R. L., 1978. Multiple Phenomena on Colorado Ranch, The A.P.R.O. Bull., 7, 5�8; 8, 7�8; 9, 6�8; 10, 5�8; 11, 5�8; 12, 7�8.
      12. Ecker F. A., 1993. Alabama Mutilations, UFO, 8,4, 7�9, 47.
      13. Ellis B., 1991. Cattle Mutilation: Contemporary Legends and Contemporary Mythologies, Contemporary Legend, 1, 39�80.
      14. Hall R. H., 1980. Livestock Mutilations: A National Mystery, Zeletic Scholar, 7, 43�51.
      15. Howe L. M., 1988. The Mutes: Cattle Mutilations and UFOs in South Dakota, UFO Universe, 11, 26�29.
      16. Howe L. M., 1992. Animal Mutilation Update, MUFON UFO Journal, 294,10, 3�9.
      17. Howe L. M., 1993. An Alien Harvest, Pioneer Printing, Cheyenne, WY, 62�102.
      18. Howe L. M., 1993. Glimpses of Other Realities, Pioneer Printing, Cheyenne, WY, 126�195.
      19. Rae M. A., 1991. Report of Laboratory Examination, Corvallis, OR: Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University, Feb. 22.
      20. Sider J., 1986. Animal Mutilations in North America. Stigmata, 23, 27�32.
      21. Smith S., 1993. Investigator Says: 'Mutes Are Just Not Happening', MUFON Report, 3, 6, 10�15.
      22. Stewart J. R., 1977. Cattle Mutilations: An Episode of Collective Delusion, The Zetetic, 1, 2, 55�66.
      23. Vallee J., 1994. A History of Animal Mutilations in New Mexico, Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 18.
      24. Vallee J., 1994. Many Theories, Few Answers in Mutilation Mystery, Santa Fe New Mexican, Sept. 19.