Explanations for the Phenomenon

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If there is no concrete evidence to support the claims that thousands of livestock have fallen victims to "classic mutilations," then how does one explain the livestock mutilation phenomenon. Again, although the answer to this question falls outside the framework of this project, I would like to briefly review some of the explanations offered by others interested in this phenomenon.

A possible explanation for at least some of the interest in livestock mutilations is offered by Tom Adams (1979-80) in the January issue of' Stigmata, a newsletter devoted to the continuing investigation of livestock mutilations.

"Among items that are rumored to be in the works, however tentatively: an anthology of commentary on the mutilation phenomenon; a bibliography of published materials; a fund for research and investigation; an in-depth documentary by a Colorado TV station, a program which may or may not be circulated to other TV stations around the country. ----- We wish we had a dollars (no, make that an ounce of gold) for every writer we've heard of within the past few years who promised (or threatened) to turn out a serious book on mutilations."

Although the profit motive cannot be entirely discounted, the livestock mutilation phenomenon is much too complex to be explained solely on this basis. Another possible explanation is offered by Burton Wolfe (1976) in an article entitled "Demystifying all the Satanic Conspiracy Stories on the Cattle Mutilations", which appeared in the May 14, 1976 issue of the San Francisco Guardian.

Wolfe attributes the cattle mutilation phenomenon to a hoax originally perpetrated by an astrologer named Dan Fry, host of a radio program in Minnesota called the "Cosmic Age."

According to Wolfe, about two years ago Fry announced on his program that cattle were being mutilated "either by some weird satanic cult or supernatural creatures arriving on the range in UFOs."

Fry, apparently intending his comments as a joke, was alarmed at the impact they subsequently had on ranches and farmers.

"Suddenly, farmers in Minnesota accustomed to finding dead cows with parts severed by predators began attributing the scavenging to satanists and UFO creatures. Through the mass communication media, including the Associated Press and such esteemed newspapers as the Houston Post, the story was disseminated to millions of people in hundreds of Midwestern cities. Reporters began to vie with each other for the most sensationalized version of how mysterious creatures from UFOs or stealthy night figures from satanic cults were mutilating cattle.

Alarmed by the results, the astrologer appeared on a number of radio and television shows "in an effort to abort his prank before the press created still more mass hysteria with it."

"'Man, there weren't any cattle mutilations.' Fry explained in a typical appearance on a Texas television talk show in March 1975. 'I just started these rumors as a joke'" Wolfe 1976.

Whether or not you accept Wolfe's explanation for the origin of the mutilation phenomenon, his observations about the role played by the media are quite revealing. Similarly, my own investigation has clearly shown that the media has played a very important role in promoting both the livestock phenomenon and the lore surrounding it.

The Truchas incident, as discussed in Chapter Four, is a classic example of how a newspaper not only can distort the facts, but also can deliberately choose to ignore them in the face of a more sensational story. This incident, as I have noted previously, would undoubtedly have gone down in history as another "classic mutilation," if I had not investigated the case myself. My own investigation, as I have shown, clearly indicated the animal had died of natural causes and had subsequently been eaten by dogs and other scavengers. Although the reporter was later made aware of the many inaccuracies contained in her articles, she never printed a retraction.

A similar incident also occurred in Roswell. However, in this case the reporter did print a retraction. On October 29, 1979, the Roswell Daily Record (1979a) printed an article entitled "Mutilated Cow Found". This story, which describes a cow reportedly found dead and mutilated in Carrizozo, contains the following quotes, both of which were erroneously attributed to me:

"'It is definitely classified as a mutilation, but it does not hold true to form as a mutilation as are on our records,' said Kenneth Rommel, director of the New Mexico animal mutilation project. 'The difference is that the eyes and tongue were left intact on the animal,' he explained."

I have no idea where this quote came from, for I certainly did not make it. On November 9, 1979, I sent a letter to the Roswell Daily Record informing them of this inaccuracy.

"This quotation is in error. I have not made any statements since the beginning of this project that would authenticate in any way any reported cattle mutilations. My policy in regards to this investigation has been to not give out any incorrect, or misleading information. I would appreciate it if you would make a correction in your newspaper."

The Roswell Daily Record (1979b) did publish a correction on November 11 issue in an article entitled, "It Wasn't a Mutilation".

The role played by the media in both sensationalizing and promoting the livestock mutilation phenomenon has also been noted by Dr. Nancy H. Owen (1980) in her study of mutilations in Benton County, Arkansas. Similarly, Dr. J. M. Tufts, whose role in unraveling the Elsberry, Missouri fly mystery which was just discussed, makes the following observation:

"After all was said and done, it was obvious that Channel 2 News was more interested in creating an exciting story than in shedding any light on the occurrence of a few dead cows."

One of the most extensive studies done on the relationship between the media and livestock mutilations was conducted recently by Dr. James R. Stewart, associate professor of sociology at the University of South Dakota. In an article entitled "Collective Delusion: A Comparison of Believers and Skeptics", Dr. Stewart (1980) traces the history of livestock mutilation reports in two adjacent states -- Nebraska and South Dakota. He goes on to show that there is a positive correlation between the number of reported incidents in a prescribed area and the number of news inches devoted to livestock mutilations by the media.

Another interesting point made by Stewart is the role played by law enforcement personnel in promoting the phenomenon.

"Local law enforcement personnel have little, if any, experience in determining causes of cattle deaths. Consequently, they were inclined to adopt the farmer's explanations in the absence of any solid refuting evidence of their own. The same was true of some local veterinarians. Rarely do they examine dead cattle; instead they are usually asked to treat living animals" Stewart 1980: 5.

Stewart also presents convincing evidence to support his conclusion -- that the episodes just discussed represent a classic case of mild hysteria (also see Stewart 1977). However, as Stewart points out, not everyone in these two states believed in livestock mutilations, even in the height of the "hysteria." Curious as to the types of individuals likely to be "believers," Stewart and his students interviewed approximately 800 adults. His findings are summarized in the following quotes:

"Females, persons with lower educational levels and lower socioeconomic groups seem to be more prone to subscribe to a bizarre explanation, -while males, higher educational level groups and high socioeconomic groups seem to be more reluctant to adopt the unusual explanation and are more likely to attribute cause to a natural explanation" 1980: 18.

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