A team of Las Vegas scientists is determined to solve the 100-year-old mystery of what has been causing cattle mutilations across North America, says the team's leader, Dr. Colm Kelleher. The National Institute of Discovery Science is on red alert to jet around the western US and Western Canada in order to quickly autopsy a freshly dead, mutilated cow, at no cost to the rancher. The group--dedicated to studying matters outside the scientific mainstream--is backed by Vegas businessman Robert Bigelow.
"We are moving in the direction of telling ranchers what might have caused the death of the animals," Dr. Kelleher says. In Western Canada in the past four years, cattle mutilations investigator Fern Belzil says he has heard of 80 such cases and investigated 45. The cows die for an unknown reason, then lose certain body parts, such as one ear, one eye, and the rectum, Mr. Belzil says. The cuts are done with "surgical precision."
But Joe Nickell, a writer for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, says Mr. Belzil and the scientists at NIDS are engaging in pseudo-science. Cattle mutilation stories started in 1897, when a Colorado newspaper reported the case of space aliens mutilating a calf, Mr. Nickell says. A member of a local Liars' Club later admitted to planting the story.
The bulk of evidence shows that mutilations are done by predators, Mr. Nickell says. Yet mutilation fever rages because the idea that cattle are being mutilated is a powerful one. When it takes hold of ranchers, Mr. Nickell says, they suddenly start looking for evidence that in fact a mutilation has occurred, instead of relying on common sense, which would tell them cows die all the time for various reasons and scavengers come and eat them.
Dr. Kelleher counters: "The ranching community has had that explanation for 30 years now. In order to dismiss this phenomenon you need an awful lot more evidence." Dr. Kelleher's team, which includes a veterinarian, wants to autopsy at least 20 cows that died no more than 24 hours previously.
The team has already jetted up to Canada, flying in to North Battleford, Saskatchewan, to autopsy an allegedly mutilated cow at a ranch that has suffered 25 mutilations in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, laboratory error prevented accurate histopathological tests on the skin tissue, Dr. Kelleher says.