Cattle Mutilations: "I See Dead Cows" - Toward a Mutilated Vision of Reality
[An interesting contrarian perspective on the cattle mutilation phenomenon by Alejandro Agostinelli - SC]
Cattle Mutilations: “I See Dead Cows” – Toward a Mutilated Vision of Reality
By Alejandro Agostinelli – Factor 302.4
They return every so often, especially when the weather grows cold and the media runs out of stuff to talk about, or the story runs afoul of a hungry editor starving for a juicy ration of paranormal ghoulishness.
The flaps of “cow mutilations” or cases involving “cattle mutilations” represent a branch phenomenon of popular ufology or the urge to find evidence of extraterrestrial activity on Earth. It is also kept alive, however, by other media-created mysteries, such as the Chupacabras, or it receives a dose of crafty explanations such as those built by conspiracy theorists (which should not be cast aside, despite their minimal diffusion, as these are often turned into successful sci-fi scripts).
On August 25 of this year, the La Nación newspaper published another news item. Last year another appeared in Tucumán, and if we keep searching, or google back even further, there isn’t a year that does not include a report on this mystery that proves hard to extinguish. Likewise, we find a more intensive presence in provinces such as Entre Rios, where local UFO groups – highly interested in the matter – publicize accounts that would otherwise go unnoticed.
In 2002, this phenomenon manifested itself in Argentina with unprecedented strength. Personally, its importance was such that a chapter based on the matter displaced another on the mysteries of Capilla del Monte in my book Invasores: Historias Reales de Extraterrestres en Argentina (Sudamericana, 2009).
The following is an abbreviated version of the most theoretical part of the chapter included in Invasores:
12 years ago, Argentina experienced its first ufological cow-icide. I started in April and reached its climax in June 2002, particularly in the province of Buenos Aires and the Pampean region. Farmhands, cattlemen and local residents woke up to find dead cows of all breeds and ages all over the place. Dozens of bovine carcasses rested near circles of flattened grass, near empty water tanks – drained by who knows what and for which reason – and others in unusual circumstances.
All of the animals presented as “proof” of the flap bore similar injuries: their edges were irregular, as though cauterized. According to farmhands and cattlemen, these incisions appeared to have a purpose. Their carcasses had been despoiled of their soft tissue (tongue, eyes, ears, nipples, genitals, udders) and sometimes they appeared exsanguinated. Locals would sink their knives into them and the blade would emerge dry, as if they had been plunged into a piece of pound cake.
The discovery of over two hundred mutilated animal carcasses was reported in less than three months, a ruthless and doubtful notion, but giving the impression that an intelligence had been at work and the deaths were not due to natural causes, such as the onset of the cold of winter or seasonal diseases followed by the instinct of certain predators looking for nourishment. Agreement between cattlemen, journalists, policemen and ufologists was overwhelming: the incisions looked artificial. These animals filled the ranks of the bizarre while predator activity was dismissed by some veterinarians in their homilies. The cult of the mutilated cow was confected by all of them, with or without an awareness of the subject.
The flap ended almost if by decree. On July 1, 2002, the National Food Safety and Quality Service (SENASA) blamed the weather and carrion animals. Presto: a mystery cauterized.
The official body stated that rodents belonging to the Oxymycterus rufus genus – among other vermin – had devoured the cattle in fine gourmet style while other victims lay dead as a result of ice storms, disease or natural causes. Bernardo Cané, the head of the organization, stated: “We are dismissing Martians, the Pombero and other rural Argentinean beliefs.” (1) The sentence would have been less odious if Cané had not ascribed the mutilations to “esoteric practices” a week earlier. (2) Forty-five days later he was dismissed from his position under suspicion of underhanded dealings. (3)
Other experts were also caught on the hop. Veterinarian Alejandro Martínez suspected “some sort of techno-cattle rustling” wielding the thermocauterizer (a pistol that fires darts) to underscore that the mysterious incisions could be caused by “any agency”. Pathologist Ernesto Odriozola supported “the actions of some madman”. Even the most experienced forensic pathologists stoked the mystery. Days later, SENASA disclosed the results of a necropsy performed on twenty animals collected from fifteen farms in different sections of Buenos Aires province. Cané presented his conclusions in a press conference: the cattle died “due to pneumonia, malnutrition, metabolic or infectious diseases that are highly prevalent during the winter season.” Thus, the mystery was halved: the mutilated cows…were already dead. The enigmatic incisions had been subsequently caused by various carrion animals, the red-muzzled mouse among them.
“Extraterrestrials Laugh at SENASA” proclaimed one of the screens of the Crónica TV channel. The mouse’s humorous moniker prompted the notion that it had all been a gag. It was around that time that I phoned Dr. Alejandro Soraci, one of the parties involved in the study conducted by Universidad Nacional del Centro (UNICEN). “Could you photocopy the report, and I’ll send for it?” But there was nothing to photocopy. The only material available, he explained, was the press release and the video of the mouse in action. SENASA results were simply two hastily drafted pages. The investigation could hardly be taken seriously with such apathy. “Why were mutilated cows found in places where the Oxymycterus isn’t found? And if it was the mouse, why didn’t SENASA undertake a campaign to control it?” wondered ufologist Quique Mario. To him, and to many other ufologist, the media oasis was deceitful. “Matters remain the same: nothing has changed. Two animals were found mutilated last Saturday, thirty kilometers from here. Last week there were five and seventeen down south, around Cuchillo Có,” he told me in mid-2003.
What factors were at play in unleashing the epidemic? Why now, and not before?
This is how SENASA – spokesman for official explanations – has belittled the human dimension of these experiences. Not everyone is willing to believe that cows are abducted by UFOs, or that a clandestine operation was set in motion to decimate the bovine population and attack those who came too close to the truth. It is also unfair that aliens should mock SENASA. The fact that the initial speculations of its experts should contradict the formal verdict speaks volumes about the fantasies that the mystery creates in all of them, scientists included. On the other hand, it doesn’t say as much about the quality of the study, which does not exempt SENASA from the mistake of making a pronouncement before the results were in hand.
The red-muzzled mouse’s leading role gave the matter an almost humorous cast: The scene-stealing and headline-grabbing mouse obscured the investigation’s credibility. It is possible that the media stressed the rodent’s involvement because there can be nothing better than a Supermouse to displace a Chupacabras. The irregular, serrated tooth marks of the Oxymycterus rufus appeared on the skin and bones of the analyzed animals. Those marks explained the origin of the strange incisions, some of them described as perfect circles. “Ever since Tom and Jerry, we know that a [mouse hole] has a circular opening. Rodents stand up and work from top to bottom,” explained Fernando Kravetz, full professor of Ecology in the School of Exact and Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires. “The rodent population grew with the increase in the availability of dead animals due to classic diseases, changes in vegetation and pastures deteriorated by the ice storms. Crops are harvested in March and the weather changed abruptly in April.” (4)
The quantity and dispersion of dead animals did not startle the professor, considered the main expert in rural ecology. “If three hundred mutilations were reported, the existence of a total of two thousand carcasses could be estimated. A congruent number for that time of year.” SENASA also mentioned less photogenic predators, such as the Pampas fox, seagulls and armadillos. But the red-muzzled mouse was on the cover, because the cow mutilation wave resulted in the casual discovery of an unexpected mutation in it dietary habits. Up to 2002, it was believed to be an insectivore, but it feasted on beef when given the chance. Kravitz measured the marks appearing on the cattle’s toughest tissue (such as the base of the tongue) and found the same patterns as in “cattle mutilations”.
Nor was SENASA the only agency to reach a prosaic conclusion. The Animal Health Group of the National Livestock Technology Institute (INTA Balcarce) studied ten cases. “The incisions and absence of internal organs, ears and nipples are due to action by predators found in the region.” The causes behind these animal deaths – when they could be ascertained – were not mysterious either (intestinal parasites, mineral deficiencies, metabolic diseases, malnutrition) as well as the cold and ice storms that blanketed the southeastern region (5).
What SENASA neglected to do – never mind other official agencies that were unresponsive to the mystery – was to find a hypothesis able to answer a question that can be stated in three ways: Why did men experienced in cattle activities feel certain that those incisions were qualitatively different from those caused by other predators? How can the belief about the phenomenon’s novelty be justified? What changed so that some more or less ordinary deaths should turn into an epidemic? Perhaps the answers would offer no consolation to cattlemen and others impressed by direct experience, but it is better to try to answer tough questions that feel the breath of the Chupacabras on the nape of one’s neck again.
The cattle mutilation wave did not occur at just any moment in time. The harsh reality suggested that attention given to these “strange events” responded to the infinity of existing social concerns. The mystery, therefore, could be considered an outgrowth of the crisis. According to the theory’s most newfangled variant, the phenomenon had been deliberately inflated to distract the population from the nation’s state of malaise. But more than a smokescreen, the exaggerated diffusion of such news looked like another symptom of the same illness.
On December 19, 2001, a crowd of Argentineans took the streets, banging on cooking pots, to protest against a government asleep in the midst of the most brutal crisis of recent history. Ferocious reprisals followed the protests, resulting in thirty-nine dead at the hands of the police. Bank freezes, the uncontrolled dollar and high rates of unemployment added to the sad national ordeal. The ashes were still hot in 2002. Shortly before the wave of alien cattle rustling, the emblem of creole opulence had been prey to minor “depredations”. It is still hard to forget the image broadcast by a news program, when a truck with beef cattle overturned on the outskirts of Rosario, Santa Fe, in 2001 and a crowd surged to butcher the animals on the roadside. Other factors – frivolous to some, but serious in their psycho-social impact – fostered the dejected popular mood: around the same time, the Argentinean football team had been eliminated from the world cup in the first round.
For once, a modern expression of the supernatural drew the interest of two specialists in myth and legends. Martha Blache and Silvia Balzano, researchers with CONICET, put forth an explanatory model for the events. They suggested the possible interconnection between Chupacabras reports, the penetration of genetically-modified sorghum and the use of new herbicides whose preparation is controlled by American laboratories. They wondered, for example, if the phenomenon might not be a warning against the uncertainty created by these changes and the perceived lack of control evinced by cattlemen. Globalization may be related to the role played by a country that “benefits from our raw materials and natural resources, removing them in an efficient yet imperceptible manner,” without leaving traces. News about cattle mutilations, they write, seemed to condense a wider metaphor reflecting a country in a state of crisis that is trying to identify the culprits. Who is attacking the cows, tame and apathetic representative of Argentine heritage? Is our blood being sucked by international agencies or domestic carrion animals?” The popular imagination, they conclude, “could sublimate the conflicting demands of the IMF with regard to the foreign debt.” (6)
In proposing their model, Blache and Balzano did not conduct a survey on the political trends or the technical-scientific concerns of cattlemen. Implementing a sort of psycho-cultural analysis using press clippings is always risky. But the authors are the first to say that their hypothesis rests only on journalistic sources. At least they didn’t keep quiet.
The authors also noticed the similarity in the conclusions reached by Kenneth M. Rommel when the FBI assigned him to study the bovine massacre in the United States in 1980 and those of SENASA in 2002. In his study of twenty-seven cattle mutilations, Rommel ascribed the phenomenon to the combined effect of the media, the social influence of “experts” and the action of various predators in the genesis, formation and extension of the wave. (7) Both in the United States and Argentina, the mutilated carcasses were found according to pre-defined patterns. What the authors have termed “the media transmission chain” supposes the participation of narrators who contribute to disseminating a legend regardless of their posture toward it.
This consensual version of the reality to be defined arises from an “identikit”, and these strangeness patterns configure, in turn a “selection criteria”. Thus, in order for the animal to belong to the category of “mutilated cattle”, it must meet a number of symptoms and even common scenarios. In order to build a “classic cattle mutilation scenario”, the animal must be found without its organs or soft tissue. The edges of its skin must be “clean, circular or with sharp angles” and the body must be as dry as possible, “as though exsanguinated”. Rommel did not find this “ideal case” in any of the one hundred seventeen mutilations he researched between 1975 and 1979, especially because – as in the Argentinean case – “surgical precision” vanished under the microscope and the exsanguination was only apparent. “Blood always pools in the lower parts of the carcass.” The missing parts – soft tissue organs – are the parts appealing to a carnivorous predator. He also discovered that the areas under the carcasses’ weight was also intact. An “intelligent mutilator” would have turned it over to devour the hidden parts. This was never the case.
In the United States, sociologist J.R. Stewart found that the number of cattle mutilation incidents was directly related to the volume of news devoted to the subject in the media. He also interviewed eight hundred adults and determined that the police, having no experience in elucidating the causes of cattle deaths, and certain local vets, more accustomed to treating live animals, were inclined to accept the farmers’ eyewitness accounts (9). A similar study was not performed in Argentina, but the phenomenon came to an end when the media moved on to other subjects.
Application of the “pitted windshield theory” can lead one to think of a case of selective perception molded by the stereotype provided by the media. I must stress that I am not a sociologist who can reduce the phenomenon to a case of mass hysteria. Even so, this theory seems more convincing to me than finding explanations in the incursions of a bloodthirsty Chupacabras, aliens hankering to throw some creole spareribs on the grill or a gang of lunatic scientists injecting strange potions into our cows.
For the moment, we know that the media is accustomed to broadcasting mutilated images of reality, and we cannot ask cows for their opinion. They can’t even moo. The red muzzled mouse – Professor Kravetz told me – swallowed their tongues.
1) “El Senasa dictaminó que las vacas mutiladas murieron ‘por causas naturales’” (01-07-02), in diario La Nación , Buenos Aires. “Vacas muertas: eran mutiladas por ratones de campo y zorros”, in diario Clarín, Buenos Aires (2-07-2002).
2) “Las vacas podrían haber sido mutiladas”, in diario Clarín (22-06-2002) y “El enigma de las vacas mutiladas, reportado por dos investigadoras en Internet”, in diario Clarín (24-06-2002).
3) “La salida de Cané del Senasa fue por una disputa política” (23/8/2003). In diario Río Negro.
4) Agostinelli, Alejandro (2002); “Vague de mutilations animales en Argentine”. In VSD Hors Série N° 5, pp. 56-61. Ed. GS Presse Com., Francia.
5) Balmaceda, Oscar (2002); “El INTA dice que las vacas mutiladas murieron por causas naturales” (29-06-02), in Diario La Nación, Buenos Aires. “Observaciones sobre supuestas mutilaciones en bovinos en el sudeste de Buenos Aires. Grupo de Sanidad Animal” INTA EEA Balcarce.
6) Balzano, Silvia; Blache, Martha (2004); “La leyenda del Chupacabras en el área pampeana. Una posible interpretación” In Folklore Latinoamericano, Tomo V, pp. 41-53, Buenos Aires, Instituto Universitario Nacional del Arte. Also see: Balzano, Silvia; Blache, Martha (2003-2004); “La cadena de transmisión mediacional en una leyenda contemporánea: El caso de las vacas mutiladas como metáfora de la crisis argentina actual”. In Estudos de Literatura Oral, No. 9-10, 39-55, Universidade do Algarve, Portugal.
7) Rommel, Kenneth (1980); Operation Animal Mutilation Project.
9) Stewart, James R. (1980); “Collective Delusion. A comparison of believers and skeptics” en Midwest Sociological Society, Milwaukee, Winsconsin, Estados Unidos.
[Translation (c) 2014 Scott Corrales, Institute of Hispanic Ufology (IHU)]