More On Argentina Cattle Mutilations
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EERIE X-FILE OF THE PAMPAS
By Reed Lindsay
The Baltimore Sun / Sunspot.net
July 23, 2002
SALIQUELLO, Argentina - Daniel Belot has seen his share of dead cows.
As a veterinarian in the heart of the cow-full pampas, Belot has written off
bovine deaths to causes as diverse as foot-and-mouth disease, bloat,
lightning, killer bees and cattle thieves who butcher their loot in place, a
crime that has become increasingly common as Argentina's economic crisis has
extended to the countryside.
Then, in April, he discovered a case that stumped him. A rancher had found a
nearly 1,000-pound Aberdeen Angus lying on its belly "like a rabbit," in
Belot's words. The left side of its face around the jaw was gone, the hide
cut away in two straight lines meeting at a 90-degree angle.
Its tongue, pharynx and larynx were missing. Muscles and ligaments had been
removed from the jawbones, leaving them spotless. There was no blood on the
animal or nearby; nor were there signs of scavengers or predators.
"I had never seen anything like it before," says Belot, who works for
Argentina's animal health agency, Senasa, in the sleepy town of Saliquello.
"How were those cuts made? When? Why?"
Three months later, Belot has no answers. Across this country's immense,
grassy plains, Argentina's renowned beef cattle are turning up dead,
mutilated in ways that have baffled experts and spooked ranchers.
Since Belot detected the first mutilation in April, nearly 200 more have
been reported in the area, in addition to a scattering of cases from as far
away as Patagonia and Uruguay.
Most cows have the same missing parts as the first one examined by Belot.
But all the mutilations share an uncanny similarity: Organs, flesh and skin
have been removed in angular or neatly curved cuts that leave no blood and
clean, dry bones.
"The type of incisions do not coincide with any infectious or contagious
disease that we know," says Alberto Pariani, a veterinarian at the
University of La Pampa who has examined 40 mutilated cows. "When animals
eat, they rip, they tear. They don't cut.
"Everyone who has experience working on the ranch says the same thing: No
animal can do this."
Blame has been pinned on everything from ravenous rodents to satanic cults,
but in the farmhouses and small towns that dot the pampas, the paranormal is
the No. 1 suspect. Sure enough, the mutilations have been accompanied by a
spate of UFO sightings.
The mutilations are not without precedent. Since the 1960s, hundreds of
mutilated animals have been found in the United States with nearly identical
characteristics - removal of organs in what appear to be surgically precise
cuts, no trace of blood, no tracks of humans or animals, often with
coinciding testimonies of strange lights.
Mutilation cases have been reported during the past year in Montana and
Oregon. The news media have evoked comparisons with the legend of the
chupacabras, literally "goat sucker," revived in Puerto Rico several years
ago when farm animals there were reportedly found dead and bloodless with
abnormal puncture wounds.
But according to an Argentine government-backed investigation, the
mutilations have an earthly explanation. A team of university veterinarians
working with specialists from Senasa and the National Institute of
Agricultural Technology recently announced that they had caught the
mysterious cow mutilator.
The culprit's name: Oxymycterus, commonly known as the long-nosed mouse. The
theory holds that the cows die from disease or other natural causes, not
unusual in winter, and are then set upon by scavengers, including foxes and
birds. But it is the hungry long-nosed mouse, with its four potent incisors,
that is allegedly responsible for nibbling off flesh and hide in circular
and linear cuts.
To prove their hypothesis, veterinarians at the national university in the
city of Tandil placed dead cows in areas where some of the mutilations had
been discovered. Four or five days later, the cows were left with "lesions
exactly the same" as those discovered in the mutilated cows.
The announcement was made at a Buenos Aires news conference, where reporters
were shown a video of mice crawling through a carcass and chomping a cow
tongue on a laboratory table. National media coverage of the mutilations has
effectively ended since the news conference.
But many experts and local veterinarians remain unconvinced by the
government-endorsed conclusion. One question the university team has not
answered is why the mice, or any scavenger for that matter, would consume
the hide around the jaw instead of first devouring the rest of the cow's
softer flesh and innards.
Another chink in the theory: Some cows have been found mutilated hours after
being seen intact, leaving scant time for the mice to remove the organs.
Nobody, from ranchers to biologists specializing in rodents, has ever seen
mice feed on a cow carcass.
The Tandil veterinarians suggest that a demographic explosion combined with
an unusually cold winter have driven the mice to change their diet from
worms and slugs to cow flesh. But in many cases, witnesses have seen no
signs of mice or any other scavengers. Raising even greater doubts, the
long-nosed mouse does not inhabit the province of La Pampa, where dozens of
mutilations have been found.
The team of university and government specialists limited their study to
five counties in the province of Buenos Aires. They did not make available
the details of their investigation.
But if the mouse theory has its holes, the possibility of human involvement
seems even more unlikely. Police have found no footprints or tire tracks
near the animals. Nor are there signs of struggle; cows killed by predators
or humans usually leave kick marks as they take their final gasps. In some
cases, the cows were discovered behind fences and locked gates or miles from
the nearest road.
Nobody has seen anyone or anything out of the ordinary, except weird lights
in the sky.
"We are totally disoriented," says Oscar Raul Arce, the chief of the
provincial police in northern La Pampa. "What is really striking is that no
clues, or prints or blood have been left.
"What's going on here is perhaps beyond our ability to understand."
For most people out on the pampas, where cows outnumber humans in the range
of 10-to-1, something strange is responsible for the mutilations, and it's
not the long-nosed mouse.
"I'd always heard stories of people who had seen lights and strange things,"
says rancher Raul Vargas, 39, standing over a mutilated calf found the day
before a half-mile from his farmhouse.
"But if I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it."
PREVIOUS NHNE NEWS LIST ARTICLES:
'VAMPIRE MOUSE' CATTLE MUTILATION THEORY REJECTED (7/7/2002):
ARGENTINA COW MUTILATION BLAMED ON FOXES & RODENTS (7/5/2002):
ARGENTINA SENDS "X-FILES" TEAM TO PROBE ANIMAL DEATHS (6/23/2002):
UNUSUAL CALF MUTILATIONS (2/22/2002):
MORE ON CATTLE MUTILATION REPORTS (1/4/2002):
RANCHERS, LAWMEN BAFFLED BY CATTLE MUTILATION CRIME WAVE (1/4/2002):
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