Since 1973 there have been waves of reports of mysterious attacks on cattle in the midwestern United States. The first of these occurred in Minnesota and Kansas. Some features of these attacks seemed inconsistent with normal explanations of attacks by predatory animals. In many instances the dead cattle appeared to have been mutilated by precise surgery in which certain parts of the body (usually eyes, ears, mouth, rectum, or sex organs) had been removed and the carcass drained of blood. No footprints indicating mutilation by humans were found around the bodies. Authorities in Kansas suggested that "cultists" were probably the perpetrators. Several carcasses were brought in for autopsies, which showed the animals died of blackleg, a cattle disease. By this time, however, the early reports and allegations had circulated around the country.
In 1974 there were reports of cattle mutilations in northeastern Nebraska and eastern South Dakota. Some reports coincided with sightings of UFOs. Along with the absence of footprints or other tracks in the area, there were rumors of large helicopters being used for cattle rustling. Although modern rustlers often use mechanization, it is unlikely that they would leave carcasses behind, and they would have no rationale for mutilating individual cattle.
Some explanations were ingenious but not wholly convincing. The director of men's admissions at the South Dakota State Mental Hospital suggested that the mutilations were the work of a psychotic individual, perhaps a youth from a farm background with hostility toward authority figures. A persuasive suggestion was that the mutilations were the work of Satanist groups, and a few scattered cases of animals who had been drugged were found. However, the cattle mutilations covered a large area and continued undetected for three months, and the possibility of Satanist groups operating from helicopters over such a large area seems unlikely.
The suggestion that the mutilations might have been the work of entities from UFOs is offered by Linda Moulton Howe in her 1980 movie, Strange Harvest, and reinforced by additional accounts in her book published in 1989.
More definitive work was begun in 1979 by Kenneth Rommel, who received a grant from the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to investigate mutilation reports inNew Mexico. In 1980, after an extensive investigation of the New Mexico carcasses, and with agreement from sheriffs and pathologists in other states, Rommel announced that he had found no evidence of cattle mutilation apart from normal predator damage. The pattern of disturbance of the carcass was consistent with that of small animals attacking the softest part of the cow, which was largely protected by the extremely strong hide. In 1984 further extensive study of the reports around the nation was made by Daniel Kagan and Ian Summers. Their book, Mute Evidence (1984), remains the definitive account of the phenomenon. They examined the origin of cattle mutilation reports and found them based on inept observation and unfounded rumor. Where autopsy reports of "mutilated" cattle were acquired from competent pathologists, they indicated damage by small animals.
In spite of lack of evidence, reports of cattle mutilations and unfounded charges that aliens are attacking hundreds of thousands of the defenseless cows continue to circulate within some of the ufological networks, though most ufologists have dismissed the stories.
The modern-day reports of animal mutilations are not unprecedented. Other stories of attacks on cattle were compiled by the indefatigable chronicler of the bizarre, Charles Fort , in his book Lo! (1931). Fort recalls that in the winter of 1904-05, during an outbreak of religious revivalism in Wales, there were stories of strange lights in the air and mysterious air vessels, followed by reports of widespread attacks on sheep. In 1910 sheep were killed on a large scale by something that attacked half a dozen each night; rabbits were killed by having their backs broken. Since Fort there have been many similar reports of animal mutilations from various countries. Not all such attacks are mysterious. In October 1980, following reports of a sheep predator active for four years, a Scottish farmer baited a cage and caught a puma. Similarly persistent stalking and killing of sheep by wild dogs is well known to farmers in many countries.
Mitchell, John, and Robert J. M. Rickard. Phenomena: A Book of Wonders. N.p., 1977.
Rommel, Kenneth M. Operation Animal Mutilation. Report of the District Attorney, First Judicial District, State of New Mexico. Sante Fe, N.Mex.: District Attorney, 1980.
Stewart, James R. "Cattle Mutilations: An Episode of Collective Delusion." The Zetetic 1, 2 (Spring-Summer 1977): 55-66.