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reader comments: Cattle "Mutilations"

03 Jul 2003
The misunderstanding in Kevin Sterns' "monograph" on cattle mutilations seem to have stemmed from a lack of knowledge of the disease process known as "rumen acidosis." Even the most cursory level of investigation (the Google search) would have revealed all of the details needed to debunk the acidosis explanation. I fear my glib response may have furthered the confusion. Mea culpa. So, for the record: An "incredibly" acidotic rumen has a pH of around 4.5. Even if said rumen were to have *ten* times as much acidity, that would be a pH of 3.5. Grapefruit juice is more acidic than that. You can leave grapefruit on your face all day, and guess what? All you end up with is a sticky face. You can run grapefruit juice through your GI tract, and so can a steer, all day with no damage of the sort described by Sterns. Grapefruit juice can't "cauterize" anything. Grapefruit juice doesn't create heat enough to cause any noticeable temperature change. Grapefruit juice can't do anything that has been attributed to the acidotic rumen, which is, according to all available literature and every professor of large animal medicine I could find, nowhere near that acidic.

To stave off another "so what," let's say the rumen is *one hundred* times as acidic as all knowledgeable people think it is. Just substitute "lemon juice" for "grapefruit juice" above. It would never dissolve whole organs from a steer. No heat. No cautery. The bottom line is that "rumen acidosis," like any other metabolic acid/base disorder, is only significant because of the changes imposed on the respiratory and synthetic processes of cells exposed to the change in environment. The rumen is a big fermentation vat. When healthy, there are flora and fauna in there which are capable of digesting cellulose into saccharides and volatile fatty acids which the cow can use. If too much acid is formed (by the ingestion of lots of corn, for example), the microbial population changes drastically, perpetuating the problem and eventually killing the cow. It's not acidic enough to destroy lots of beef; it just damages ruminal metabolism.

Seriously, I've gotten it all over myself, it's harmless to tissue. The biggest problem here is that a kitten-weak, unresearched, impossible argument has been put forth. I agree with the goal of the argument, to disprove the asinine assertion that space aliens are mutilating cattle. But a vapid argument doesn't help the cause.

Your favorite veterinary student,
Greg Griffeth

reply: I followed your argument until that line about the favorite veterinary student. You lost me there, Greg. In any case, I am not a chemist but I know a little about pH and acid (from maintaining a swimming pool). I did not think that acid from rumen acidosis would spread to the internal organs, eyes, anus, etc., and dissolve them but I did think it possible that in extreme cases the decreased pH might create an environment for bacteria that might do the job. I was wrong. I should have done more research and should not have rushed to publish this notion. The reference to acidosis as a possible explanation for some cattle "mutilations" has been removed.

update: More than five years later, Greg is still reading The Skeptic's Dictionary. On October 9, 2008, he wrote:


It's been about 5 years since I sent you [the comments posted above] and things have been indeed busy. I see that you have continued the good work...thank you!

[In the comments] above, there's a paragraph about dieticians and nutritionists. The information is a bit overblown when distinguishing them...in the US nutritionists may or may not be bogus.

I write, however, because in *veterinary* medicine, "nutritionist" is indeed a protected term used only for boarded diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. That includes the 24+month residency and the crushing examination at the end...so those folks are generally the trusted food specialists in my field. Not that it guarantees truth, justice, and the American way, but it's a start.

I only make the point because veterinary medicine has many examples of what would happen if the food quacks ruled the world. I have seen obligate carnivores being fed vegan diets that were killing them; pets in households with infants and children being fed fresh, raw, Campylobacter- and Salmonella-laden chicken; and supplements claiming almost everything up to (but not including) triggering the Second Coming that contained only clay. Our nutritionists are a very small group leading a very hard fight against that kind of craziness...if there's anything you can do to help keep that difference clear, it would be a Good Thing.

Thanks again for the continued effort...

reply: I'm pleased to pass on the information regarding veterinary nutritionists. It is unfortunate that we don't require non-veterinary nutritionists to have a basic knowledge of anything more than how to sound like you know what you're talking about. Dietitians, on the other hand, are required to be highly trained and educated.

26 Apr 2003
I wonder if it would be worthwhile to see what the insurance industry has to say about alleged cattle mutilations. Livestock are business assets, no different than a roll of carpet, or a case of toilet paper. (Intelligent people wouldn't believe a grocery store owner's claim that his store was burned down by aliens or Satanists, would they?) Breeding/dairy animals are also revenue generators, and in addition to being worth thousands of dollars, will produce milk &/or calves throughout their lives. For a rancher to pay ten thousand dollars for a 2 year old bull, only to have it die a few months or years later, the temptation to recoup the loss, even fraudulently, must be pretty big. The temptation is even greater if the animal died as a result of poor farming practices. If it died due to improperly stored silage for instance, the owner's insurance could be canceled. If it died as a result of poisoning by a noxious weed present on the property, the owner could be liable for local, state, and federal fines.

I think it's also worthwhile to note that anyone experienced with cattle can, with a reasonable amount of practice, tell the difference between skeletons of bulls, steers, and cows. (And that anyone who claims to be a dairy farmer or cattle rancher who can't, is not what he/she claims.) This is important because market steers, which are bred to be sold for beef at about 2 years of age, generally have a value of only a few hundred dollars. It's also important to remind city folks that the absence of testicles on a steer carcass is what defines a steer. A tight ring is placed on the scrotum above the testicles which deprives the tissue of a blood supply. The testicles and scrotum below the ring dies and sloughs off, leaving a characteristic scar. Small operations may still simply crush the testicles with a specially designed tool, but these are usually folks who raise a handful of steers for their own consumption.

C. Hoffman

13 Mar 2003
First, let me thank you for your description of "Extreme Lactic Acidosis" as a rumination. I still have coffee-induced rhinitis from that. Second, as a vet student, etc., your readers may rest assured that lactate, in all it's forms, isn't likely to directly cause that type of physical injury. Specifically, the pH of an incredibly acidotic rumen wouldn't fall below that of an average monogastric mammal. I'd give cites, but I am up to my elbows (literally -- ha!) in horses right now. I'd bet the Merck Manual of chemicals, etc, would be instructive.

Greg Griffeth

Kevin Sterns replies: So what? The digestive juices in our stomachs are quite capable of breaking down most animal tissues. Suppose the acid in my stomach becomes over-produced and is continuously expelled over a 24-hour period? The tissues around my mouth (for example) would be destroyed, and remaining tissues would show signs of chemical burns.

1 Nov 2002

Your entry on cattle mutilations was very myopic and downright insulting to the farmers which it happens to. I happen to fall into that category. I've lost several cattle over the years from this. I've also lost many cattle over the years to natural causes, predators, stupid city folk trying to be big white hunters, etc. My family has been in the cattle business for generations and this phenomena is something new. Blowflies don't do their work when it's 10 degrees below zero. I don't think it's UFOs, but it damn sure isn't buzzards and blowflies, either.


29 Sep 1999
I recently came across your
Skeptic's Dictionary and have spent the last three nights, and several hours, enjoying your insight of several topics that have been of interest to me. When I saw your reference to cattle mutilations I had to respond. In the spring of 1975 I was in the Army (Military Police) stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. As with civilian police agencies, Military Police do basic police duties (patrol, criminal investigations, traffic control, etc.) and other military requirements when directed. Holding the rank of Private First Class (E-3) I did not have much input, if any, in the assignments I received and usually drew the least desirable duties.

In the latter part of April, 1975, I was on patrol with another young soldier Specialist 4th Class (E-4) driving a 4 WD Jeep. Our patrol area was in one of the most remote areas of the base (North Fort as I believe it was called) and we spent most of the evening testing the jeep on the many "tank trails" which where in abundance in that area and just enjoying (as best as possible under the circumstances) the spring weather. Late in our shift, early morning about 4:00 A.M., we came across a dead cow in the middle of one of the well used tank trails. Tank trails are not paved and it was easy to determine that several tracked vehicles had recently been in the area. Finding a cattle carcass was not uncommon (at least until that day) as local ranchers leased grazing areas from the military and cattle were often wandering onto main roads, where they were struck by military or privately owned vehicles, and into live munitions testing/training areas.

After a few minutes of debate (my partner had read in the local paper, Killeen Daily Herald, about recent "cattle mutilations" found on and around the Ft. Hood area and did not want to do the paperwork he assumed would follow) we decided to call it in and, as it appeared to me to be a young "bull", move the carcass off the trail. It wasn't long before I realized I should have kept my mouth shut. It was just a matter of seconds before every vehicle with a radio on our frequency was asking for our location. After giving directions as best as possible it wasn't long, about thirty minutes, before several vehicles began to arrive including "agents" from our Criminal Investigation Division. We had been told, over the radio, while we waited, not to touch anything and to treat the area as a Crime Scene! I listened in complete awe as various people discussed the possible reasons as to this unfortunate animals demise. The most prevalent was a "satanic cult." I should note at this point that parts of the cows ears, anus, eyes, nose and tail were missing but being from Texas I attributed this to local predators (coyotes, feral packs of dogs) and voiced this opinion. When I observed a photographer taking photographs of "mysterious" black spots in and around the grassy area I again voiced my opinion by attributing this to the exhaust of idling diesel engines from the many large vehicles that use the trail. I guess this was too much for someone, as I was soon assigned the job of directing traffic from the main road.

While doing this task a civilian pickup truck approached and a local rancher stopped and asked if there had been an accident. I told him about the young calf and he replied "yeah I found him about 6:00 last night and left him for the coyotes." When I explained what the prevalent thinking was as to the cows demise he laughed and said "Hell, coyotes' killed it, I saw one pulling on his nose when I drove up and was coming back to bait the carcass." I guess some type of predator bait but didn't inquire as I was laughing too hard and the rancher shook his head and drove off. As it was becoming daylight a Major arrived and ordered everyone to leave as, in his words "there is nothing here worth our time." So everyone left, I made an entry in the patrol log and that was that.

How wrong I was. After returning to work the next day I found that this incident had grew to mythic proportions. For awhile I tried to enlighten people as to the truth but found, on the most part, that it was not possible. I then put the incident behind me and tried to forget about it although when I wanted a good laugh I would relate this to people who were hooked on this story until I related the ending. I even had someone a few years ago accuse me of being "part of the cover-up" when I interrupted a conversation about this subject between some co-workers and related this incident. So be it. Very sad but true.

P. McDermott

reply: You wouldn't be handing us a line of bull, would you?

26 Sep 1997
I am a civil engineer, non-theist, amateur evolutionary biologist, law abiding, tell it like it is citizen. Having said that I thought I would inform you of a local story that just broke a few weeks ago about cattle mutilations in the Lassen National Forrest at Papoose Meadow. According to the article, which was in the Valley Post from Anderson, CA, there have been several mutilations with all the signs of the classic cattle mutilation. Fish and Game, and other local officials concluded that some type of non-traditional religious group was involved with the first few mutilations. The ranchers think this is unlikely according to the article.

Reply: If Fish and Game and other "officials" concluded (a) that there were "mutilations" and that (b) these were done by some "non-traditional religious group", then you should become suspicious. Traditional religious groups are the ones who started butchering animals as part of their worship. To qualify as an official non-traditional religious group you have to sign an oath not to harm animals, except other humans, and then only in self-defense, unless, of course the animal signs a release form.

Also a good friend of mine who raises lamas actually saw a round object moving silently over his meadow near the Lassen area last April. The amazing thing is that he took pictures and is going to show them to me next week. If we assume that the pictures are real and that only the US military or aliens possess such vehicles and that all US military flights are strictly controlled and that aliens have an interest in animals for nutrition or experimentation then I would conclude that what he saw was an alien vehicle inspecting his livestock because I doubt if secret US military vehicles wonder around meadows as part of their flight path.

Reply: It's been two months since I first heard from you and no word on these photos yet. You might consider not making so many assumptions and try drawing some other inferences from the data. Even if the photos are "real", there might be another explanation besides military planes and alien rancher-experimenters.

Sounds a bit crazy but the evidence for an alien presence on this planet is mounting and I suspect will eventually become trivial. It seems somewhat surreal when unusual things happen locally.

Reply: I agree on the "sounds a bit crazy", "trivial" and the "surreal" parts, but the only thing that seems to be mounting is the evidence that people believe there is mounting evidence for all kinds of strange things. We skeptics are not quite as impressed by these stories, however.

Also, the ranchers claim that one cow was found dead with one horn buried in the ground and another bull was found dead sitting on its back legs. There were no signs of any vehicles or human activity according to the article. The ranchers believe that the animals were dropped from the air.

Reply: Don't rule out ball lightning or a cattle seance that went awry. But the theory that aliens are dropping cattle to see what happens is right up there on top of my list of possibilities that make life so interesting to explore.

It's a fascinating subject.
Barry Sutter, PE

reply: Yes, it certainly is.

It's interesting. I just read your segment on cattle mutilations, and I find that though you are critical of Linda Howe's program, you offer no alternative explanations, other than the possibility that the government is probably perpetuating the phenomena. This would be an attractive idea, and would go far in explaining away the phenomena, if it weren't for the fact that the government has a great deal of its own land on which it could perform these mutilations, relatively safe from the public eye. I don't claim to know what is behind this phenomena, but after looking at the evidence, I do not find predators, cultists, the government, or even Newt Gingrich to be very compelling explanations. My recommendation is that you address yourself to this topic more seriously, for it would behoove us all to know the truth of the matter.
Steve Thompson

reply: I state that there are plenty of alternative explanations (as you yourself note near the end of your note when you reject the alternatives), all of them naturalistic and normal (e.g., human and other animal predators).

I can't understand how you read my article and think that I say that the government has anything to do with either cattle mutilations, cover-ups of cattle mutilations, or anything having to do with cattle at all.

I don't think I need to get more serious than I have been. I think we probably already have the truth of the matter, but let me know what you dig up with your research.

A couple of years ago though, I reached a different conclusion as I stared down upon the carcass of a dead horse that my neighbor had found in his pasture. The only thing missing from this horse (beyond any blood whatsoever, either within the carcass or on the ground surrounding) was its genitals. Forgetting the lack of blood for a second, what predator is this selective?

reply: The human predator would be my guess, or insects [see the next letter].

20 Dec 96
I have been enjoying your Skeptic's Dictionary website and in general I find it to be quite broad. Lots of ground covered. And you seem to (usually) keep a level head and respect opposite points of view. And all the hotlinks were no doubt quite a bit of work to add... So, good site overall and I'm sure the world needs more like it. Maybe if you shouted from rooftops.

Anyway, I'm sure you also get plenty of criticism along the lines of what I'm offering -- it seems that some of your entries lack depth.

reply: Some lack width and height, too. Anyway, I'm not sure all readers would agree that I respect opposite points of view. If I've given that impression, I apologize.

But then I'm not out there putting all this stuff on the net. The piece on cattle mutilations seemed to me to really miss the boat.

reply: Maybe you should read the entry on Noah's Ark. He's the one responsible for all these cattle, anyway.

Your article focused on mostly the inanity of the conspiracy theories about cattle mutilations without really offering any solid debunking or concrete counter-explanations. In short, your piece could be summed up as, "That's a lot of crazy talk. I don't know what's doing it, but it sure ain't UFO's." That's true. But I know there's some more information out there on the subject.

reply: You've hit the nail on the head! I know some of my readers expect me to have the answers to all questions. They are not satisfied with a plain debunking; they want a solid one, one which includes the one, true, final, correct explanation for whatever. Unfortunately, I am not The Answer Man, nor do I pretend to be. I have tried to explain this in several entries, but I'll try again. If someone tells me that she has been having migraines ever since aliens implanted a sonar detector in her brain, I will give the best argument I can to persuade her that her headaches are probably not due to alien implants. I will not try to persuade her that she does not have headaches and I will feel under no obligation to try to find an explanation for either her headaches or for her belief that aliens implanted a sonar device in her head. As to the cause of her headaches--the "real" explanation--I don't feel qualified to try to answer that question. I suggest she see a medical doctor. Likewise, if you want to know why your cattle are dead and "mutilated" call a veterinarian, don't call me. As to explaining delusional beliefs, I'd just have to speculate, like any good philosophical psychologist. Sometimes I feel like speculating, sometimes I don't.

In one of Cecil Adams' "Straight Dope" books, there was an article on cattle mutilations in which he mentioned a series of experiments performed with dead cattle left exposed to the elements. The short answer is that insect scavengers, specifically blowflies (if I remember right), do a very nice job approximating the "surgical mutilations" reported by the UFO theory community. Moreover, the experiment observed that the insect predators frequently attack the exposed mucous membranes of the dead animals -- they're the easiest and choicest bits, I suppose. This goes a long way to explaining the aliens' fascination with cattle genitals.

reply: Well, there you have it, then. I don't need to give the answers, since Cecil Adams has already done so and you have been kind enough to pass on this solid explanation. I am sure it explains many cases of "surgical precision," but don't expect the UFOers to take too kindly to this attempt at an earthly account of the matter.

Anyway, hope you find the time to flesh this entry out. Thanks for a great website, though, and keep preaching to the converted.
Dr. Paul Vetter 

reply: Thank you, doctor! [Say, you're not a veterinarian, are you?] I'll remember to mention the blowflies in my next sermon.

8 Mar 1997
Some comments regarding your page on cattle mutilation: Linda Moulton Howe says:

The cuts were made rapidly, probably in two minutes or less, because there is no inflammatory cell destruction which typically begins in a few minutes after any trauma to tissue.

Now, I'm not a biologist or a doctor, but it seems reasonable that, if the cows were already dead, any mutilation done to them wouldn't cause  inflammation, since the dead body wouldn't be reacting any more (but then again, maybe making cuts to dead bodies does cause inflammation).

About the lack of blood, if the cow was dead of a while before being mutilated, the gravity would settle blood to the parts of the cow lowest to the ground, so making a cut to pretty much anywhere on the body wouldn't result in bleeding.

As to why 'why beings with the intelligence and power to travel billion of miles to our planet would spend time mutilating cows': who knows? They're aliens. If I were trying to make up a reason for a SF story, I might say "it's how they get their kicks" or "its part of their religion" or something like that. But speaking seriously, we humans sometimes have a hard time understanding our fellow humans from other cultures (or even fellow humans from the same culture), even though our fellow humans have the same physiology and have the same physical structure and mechanisms in their brains as we do. How much more difficult would it be to understand aliens who don't share our physiology and the way our brain works? In other words, if someone claims that aliens are doing something totally bizarre and beyond reason, that can't be used to argue against their claims.

Matthew Cline

reply: I was following you until your last sentence. If making claims which are "beyond reason" can't be used against you, what can?

11 Mar 1997

I would like to submit a possible explanation for these odd occurrences of mutilated cattle being found with very little or no blood stains, and surgically removed organs. It seems that when cattle die, their large bovine hearts stop beating. Go figure, they work just like humans in that respect. Bear in mind that without a beating heart to propel it, blood has nothing but gravity and perhaps a bit of internal gas pressure to coax it out of an opening, so if someone were to cut into a dead cow, he or she shouldn't necessarily expect huge pools of blood to spew forth.

With that in mind, if a rancher or farmer has a cow that dies, he's out some money, and insurance companies don't sell life insurance for cows (Or maybe Lloyds does. Wouldn't be the weirdest thing they've ever insured.) At any rate, insurance companies do cover vandalism damage.

It is entirely likely that, upon finding a dead cow in the field, some farmers have turned that sad news into happy profit by doing a bit of nip & tuck, and blaming (aliens, the government, horny teenagers, whatever.)
Joseph Betz

11 Mar 1997
As I recall, in the 1970's, there was a remote controlled surgical table developed for NASA. It  was considered undesirable to staff future space stations with medical staff, when it could be run remotely from ground control. The table utilized two tightly generated directional high frequency beams. Individually, each beam passes through flesh and bone without harm. Where the beams intersect, the frequency is changed. Depending on the modulation, the intersect can fuse or cut. This allows surgery without an incision. The example shown in a promotional film was an appendectomy. Before each cut, the tissue on each side is fused to prevent internal bleeding. The removal of the disconnected appendix could then be performed by a small incision by a fellow astronaut with minimal direction.

reply: Laser surgery is quite common, today. I'll bet you're going to suggest that mutilated cows have been operated on by lasers!

Assuming there are satellites in orbit and they can generate such beams of energy, it would be fairly simple to target an animal that stands in an open field and sleeps on its feet. Fusing certain nerves or portions of brain might effectively disconnect the animal from pain. A number of surgical procedures can then be performed invisibly to the casual viewer. The destruction of blood and body parts may be possible through a remodulation of the beams or through the use of multiple beams. Even unusual atmospheric effects might be generated incidentally or purposely.

reply: Hell, NASA is lucky if their rockets don't explode on the ground. But I'll grant you what you say and even add that it is possible that there are invisible guys sitting on the satellites dropping fertilizer pellets.

The purpose of cattle mutilations might simply be the unauthorized use of satellite technology by those with the day to day responsibility for satellite maintenance and care.

reply: It might be. Then again, it might not be.

In the wee hours of the morning, a bright and bored technician might find it, as amusing as, a video game. Chopping up hamburger might not seem unduly cruel to technicians trained to conduct a nuclear war, remotely.

reply: Maybe. Maybe not.

It's not so much a conspiracy, as it is taking advantage of resources. A weapon you don't use is a useless weapon. If, you had the power of US nuclear technology at your fingertips, cattle mutilation might not seem so serious to a 23 year old technician.

John Grisham

reply: I'm sure the military could find some live cattle of their own to practice on, if they so desired. Do you think we used lasers on the Iraqis just for practice?

21 Mar 1997

Here's an interesting addition to the Cattle Mutilations section:

First, I'll point out at this point that this is a paraphrase of a story told at lecture my friend attended, and then repeated to me. Hardly a  "substantiated" story, but a lot more plausible than alien haggis lovers.

The story: In an area of cattle country (Texas I think) there was a rash of "weird cow deaths". The cattle would be found dead in the fields without any apparent reason. Obviously concerned that whatever had killed the cattle would get the rest, the ranchers had autopsies performed on the deceased bovines. What they found made it to the front Pages in the area. The cattle had vital internal organs removed without any external incision! Horrors! Quirky BEM's no doubt (that's "bug-eyed monsters" if you're not familiar). The story caused a lot of stir and got a lot of attention for a while and then died down.

Later, someone actually decided to do a scientific investigation and the answer turned out to be a lot weirder than aliens in my opinion, if only because it was true: weasels. The cattle had died of some disease (which wasn't discovered earlier because of the distraction caused by the missing livers and so on). After their death the local weasels, which apparently like those tasty cow insides, would take the opportunity to go get some fresh ones. Naturally they went in the easiest way, which happened to be the cows anuses. They'd squirm in, eat to their hearts content and squirm out. This was much easier than chewing past all of that hide and muscle just to get to the good bits.

Typically, though reported, this revelation got far less attention than the "Cows Missing Livers: Alien?" type stories, thus many still came away thinking that extra-terrestrial origins were not just probably but confirmed in some official way. The "Weasel Retraction" was probably buried way in the back.

I can't confirm any of this, so I'll present it for entertainment only, but I trust my friend and the lecturer she went to see struck me as trustworthy at the time, though I can't remember who it was (a naturalist of some sort). Keep up the good work.
Victor Allen

reply: hmmmm. I've heard of weasels sucking the egg from the shell and leaving the shell behind, but never of sucking the livers out of dead cows. The story is entertaining, I suppose, but I can't say whether it is true or not. I'll say that the burrowing weasel story is at least as plausible as the alien rustler theory. But I still think insects and natural forces are more likely than anal burrowing weasels.

1 Apr 1997
I wasn't aware that this was still considered open. I'm sorry I don't  have references to hand, so this will be purely anecdotal.

Somebody finally realized that veterinarians don't deal with carcasses, and called in pathologists. They report that the so-called mutilations are the normal result of decomposition and scavengers on carcasses that  are not buried or burned.

Do not read this paragraph while eating! Scavengers eat soft parts, (ears, eyes, tongue, and penis or udder), rather than attack the hide proper. Decomposition later tightens the muscle fibers, drawing the wounds of the avulsions back inside the carcass. Meanwhile, the gasses of decomposition evert the anus and in female animals the womb, more soft parts for scavengers to scavenge. The gasses then escape, and further decomposition draws these wounds inward also. If all this happens during the fly season, the maggots eat the edges of the wounds and leave them smooth. If it happens outside fly season, the wounds remain jagged. Descriptions of "typical" cattle mutilations follow this pattern, especially the matter of fly season.

Once the pathologists had cleared out the normal carcass deterioration, the very few cases that did not follow the pattern could be isolated and quickly solved. These were unstable individuals with a background of torturing urban animals (dogs, cats, squirrels, &c) who were inspired by the "cattle mutilation" story to hunt bigger game. Copycat crimes, though the first actual crimes of their type, because they were copying unsubstantiated rumors of crime rather than reports of actual crimes committed.

If all this is old hat, and I simply missed the reference, I apologize for taking up everyone's time.
Lee Burwasser

15 May 98
I read your piece on cattle mutilations.  This is in response to those who argue that the behavior of extraterrestrials is inherently inexplicable, and this is why they mutilate cattle instead of asking the government (with whom they supposedly have a treaty or agreement) to buy them a herd to breed and utilize.

Beings who are truly alien in behavior and psychology would be incapable of making a treaty with the government of any country.  They might not even be capable of realizing or understanding that the bustling bipeds in large conglomerations are intelligent beings.  If they did, they would still face difficulties in making themselves understood to humans, and in understanding human concepts.  So any treaty or agreement, unless pared down to the most basic concepts, would be improbable (if not impossible).  This same 'alienness' would effectively prevent any efforts at 'reverse engineering' of extraterrestrials' technology in reciprocation for body parts of dead cattle.
Juliet Fischer

reply: Those who believe possess the ultimate trump card for all objections to their notions: the ways of the aliens (gods, etc.) are incomprehensible, therefore anything goes except what makes the most sense. We might call this the fideist's non sequitur.

13 Jul 1998
Re the cattle mutilations sections and comments, I happen to have a  copy of Operation Animal Mutilation Report of the District Attorney, First Judicial District, State of New Mexico by Kenneth M. Rommel, Jr., Project Director, published in June of 1980. Mr. Rommel investigated all 177 reported cases of animal mutilation in the state of New Mexico from 1975 to 1980, and so can hardly be accused of drawing his conclusion -- that there was nothing 'mysterious' about the mutilations --on the basis of an insufficient number of cases. I won't quote the whole shebang, but yes, incisions to a carcass by the teeth of  predators/scavengers can indeed resemble knife cuts (even in bone, as I can personally attest as a zooarchaeologist-in-training), while the characteristic pattern of removals listed as indicative of 'classic' mutilation -- sexual organs, tongue, eyes, ears, and anus --are indeed precisely those normally attacked by scavengers, as these organs are vulnerable, tender, and provide comparatively quick and easy access to the interior of the carcass. Rommel cites a study performed with a newly-dead calf in 1980, in which many of these 'classic' mutilations were seen to occur during a 30-hour period of continuous observation. The culprits were blowflies, skunks, and buzzards. Rommel also found that the apparent lack of blood within the mutilated animals was not substantiated by necropsy reports, but seemed to be based on the lack of blood observed at the scene. As other letters to you have noted this is often due to blood settling after death; but the experiment with the calf above also noted that blood found within the carcass and the very little spilled to the ground was quickly consumed, particularly by the blowflies.

Mr. Rommel goes into other claims, including the failure of the family dogs to bark in the night, mysterious fly deaths, unusually slow rates of decay or arrested decay, avoidance of the carcasses by other animals, etc., etc. As you might expect, where such phenomena were observed to occur, they were generally readily explainable, while the more mysterious elements proved to be scientifically explicable (the most unusual element being a peculiar but known fungal disease of scavenging flies, which was observed to cause mass fly deaths in at least one otherwise unremarkable case).

It's an excellent report, and deserves to be more widely known. But then again, it's the tripe that sells.
Stacy Scott

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