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The appearance of one dead bull — no blood, sex organs and tongue removed, no gunshot wounds — mystified officials near a timbered ravine in eastern Oregon.
But when four more were discovered about 2.5 kilometres away in the same condition, the plot thickened. No tracks were found near the dead bodies, leading people to think they were placed there.
Local ranch management and law enforcement suspect that someone must have killed the bulls. Ranch hands have been advised to travel in pairs and to go armed.
It seems that concerned locals have been banding together to solve this mystery, which for some calls to mind past incidents of discovered murdered bulls.
Ever since the animals were found back in July, Harney County sheriff’s deputy Dan Jenkins has received many calls and emails with theories.
Some think the bulls have been harmed to hurt ranchers financially, while others speculate scavengers such as carrion bugs have been eating the carcasses.
One person even went so far as suggesting UFO involvement, telling Jenkins to look for craters underneath their carcasses.
Back in the 1970s, thousands of livestock were found mutilated in similar ways across the U.S. west and midwest.
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Cases have emerged on and off since then.
In the 1980s, a few cows were found dead and mutilated in eastern Oregon. More recently, there have been cases on a ranch in Arizona.
Dave Bohnert, director of Oregon State University’s Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, says there’s no indication that these most recent findings were attacked by predators or had eaten anything poisonous.
“To lose a completely healthy animal would be an oddity,” said Colby Marshall, vice president of the Silvies Valley Ranch, which owned the bulls.
“To lose five young, very healthy, in great shape, perfect bulls that are all basically the same age … that is so outside the bounds of normal activity.”
He suspects the bulls were killed to get their organs, despite the fact that these particular parts would be available cheaply or free at a slaughterhouse.
Some people, he believes, are going to a lot of trouble to get these parts on the range.
Jenkins’ theory isn’t too far off. “Personally, I would lean more toward the occult, where people for whatever reason … whether it’s a phase of the moon or whatever rituals they’re going to do with their beliefs … are coming to different areas and doing that.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is offering a US$1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible. The ranch is offering US$25,000.
— With files from the Associated Press