Bovine Mystery Stumps in Colorado: 'We're Scratching Our Heads'

State wildlife officials don't know why dozens of cows, calves near Meeker have died since October
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2022 2:11 PM CST
Dozens of Cattle Have Dropped Dead Here. No One Knows Why
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/DanVostok)

Cattle are dying by the dozens in a tiny corner of Colorado, and it's left local wildlife authorities flummoxed. The Guardian reports that, over the past two months, about 40 cows and calves have expired near the northwest town of Meeker, with a rancher there first reporting the deaths of 18 of his calves in October. At first, officials with Colorado Parks & Wildlife thought wolves were to blame, but the telltale signs of wolf attacks—tails ripped off, bite marks on the cows' hamstrings and flanks—appeared on only five of the dead cattle, Travis Black, the northwest region manager for CPW, reported to the state's Parks and Wildlife Commission in mid-November, per the Denver Post.

Black said that flights overhead and cameras strategically placed along trails also turned up nothing wolf-related. Howling heard in the area by locals is either unconfirmed or, in one case, came from coyotes. Biologists even headed out into the wild themselves to howl into the void, hoping for a response—but there's been none. CPR News notes that state wildlife officials have been tracking a wolf family in Jackson County, but the area where those wolves have been hanging out is more than 100 miles from Meeker. "We have no evidence of wolves" near Meeker, Black told the commission, per the Post. "That doesn't mean they're not there," he says. "Sometimes wolves can be difficult to locate."

Two other theories wildlife officials have been mulling is that a) livestock-guarding dogs may have attacked the cattle, or b) the cows could have been felled by a bacterial infection. But Black said that dogs aren't usually around Meeker at this time of year. And necropsies of the animals turned up inconclusive, with the tiny lesions that usually accompany bacterial infections nowhere to be found. "It's perplexing. We're scratching our heads a little bit," Black told the commission, noting that the investigation will continue. (More cattle stories.)

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