Some 40 cows have been slaughtered on western Colorado ranches by a mystery predator, and baffled authorities have no idea who or what is behind the cattle carnage.

Cows have been found with missing tails and bite marks, but no tracks or other evidence of wolves or other animals have been discovered at the multiple sites. Some 18 cows were found dead on White River National Forest land on October 5, and the carcasses have continued to turn up in Rio Bianco County, in the far western portion of the state.

“It’s perplexing; it’s confusing; it’s frustrating, trying to figure out exactly what occurred in this incident,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Regional Director Travis Black told agency commissioners last month. “We have no evidence of wolves in that area. That doesn’t mean they are not there.”

Although some of the cows may have been killed by wolves, the lack of telltale tracks has Black skeptical. The cow carcasses don’t bear the signs of typical wolf feeding, the state’s only known wolfpack is a “considerable distance” from the sites, and trail cams and aerial surveillance have not detected any wolf activity in the area, he said.

“It’s frustrating, trying to figure out exactly what occurred in this incident,” Black told the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “We’re scratching our heads a bit.”

Rancher Lenny Klinglesmith, in an interview with The Fence Post, said the initial cattle were all found within a mile and a half of one another and that all suffered extensive trauma to their flanks, had bite marks on their heads and faces, and some had missing or damaged tails.

“All 18 had trauma indicative of a wolf pack killing,” said Klinglesmith, who runs the LK Ranch with his wife, Jackie. “Nothing fit the MO of a bear or a lion or larkspur.”

But Black said only five of the dead cows had wounds even “somewhat consistent with wolf depredation.”

Officials have also explored the possibility the cattle were felled by an infection of Clostridium bacteria, but veterinarians from Colorado State University and Texas A&M University found no evidence of that.

The mystery comes as Colorado is trying to reintroduce wolves back into the state’s natural habitat. Farmers and ranchers have bitterly opposed the plan, citing concerns for their livestock, according to Steamboat Pilot & Today. Environmentalists claim rebuilding a wolf population is important for the state’s ecosystem.

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