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 mens 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 in
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Cattle Mutilations
New 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 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 190405,
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 (SpringSummer 1977) 5566.