Meeker cattle deaths remain unsolved mystery to Colorado wildlife and livestock experts

Nearly two months after the death of dozens of calves south of Meeker — originally believed to be caused by wolves — wildlife officials, veterinarians and the rancher who suffered the losses all remain perplexed as to how the animals died.

The role wolves may have played has diminished since the original news release by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Oct. 7, but the predator has not been completely ruled out. Meanwhile, disease has gained ground as a possible cause.

Jerry Klinglesmith, the Meeker-area rancher who suffered the losses reported Oct. 4, recently released what he said is the most likely scenario for the deaths in a story published by The Fencepost.

"The most likely scenario would be the following: An apparent canine attack may have triggered the onset of a still-inconclusive cause of death,'' he wrote in the story.

Klinglesmith said he brought in veterinary help in addition to Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other wildlife experts to investigate the cause of the deaths.

More: Meeker calf deathsWolves are suspected of killing Meeker cattle, but did disease play a part?

He said one of the possibilities investigated was black leg, a disease caused by the Clostridium bacteria. Black leg was also brought up as a possible cause at this month's Colorado Wildlife Commission meeting by Travis Black, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Region manager.

But Klinglesmith said in the story pathology results from samples sent to the Colorado State University Diagnostic Laboratory and Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory could not confirm the deaths were caused by black leg.

The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory website says animals can become infected with the bacteria while grazing. The disease causes low oxygen conditions such as bruising or damage to the muscle and eventually muscle necrosis and hemorrhage. It said animals affected by black leg are usually well-fed animals between 6 months and 2 years of age. The disease often occurs between 12 and 48 hours after the bacteria enters the animal and the majority of cases occur in summer.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife previously said the deaths were reported over a two-week period and were reportedly spread more than 1.5 miles on the ranch's grazing allotment on the White River National Forest. The agency said more than 40 calves have been reported dead.

Black said at the Nov. 17 commission meeting the case remains perplexing because a ''handful'' of calves showed injuries, including contusions and hemorrhaging, consistent with wolf depredation. Some had tails missing and marks consistent with canine teeth, which prompted the state wildlife agency's initial release.

He said a possibility is canines, such as dogs or wolves, chased or harassed the calves, exacerbating a health issue within the herd.

However, he added there is no evidence of dogs being present and that — despite the agency conducting aerial flights, howling surveys, using game cameras and looking for tracks — no signs of wolves were found since the deaths were reported. And there has been no evidence wolves consumed any of the calves and no evidence other predators may have killed the calves.

Also, there has been no confirmed wolf reports from the area, only unconfirmed wolf sightings from the public late last fall in the general area where the depredation occurred.

"We have zero evidence of wolves being in the area, but that doesn't mean they weren't there,'' he said. "Right now, we don't have a solid answer as to what happened.''

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has confirmed 10 livestock deaths attributed to the North Park wolfpack, the most recent coming Nov. 19. However, that pack is not being looked at as killing the calves near Meeker. The Meeker incident is more than 100 miles from the North Park pack's known territory and that pack was the confirmed cause of the death of a calf Oct. 9 in North Park.

The parents of that pack naturally migrated from Wyoming and gave birth last year to Colorado's first wolf pups in 80 years.

The state wildlife agency is in the process of creating a plan to recover and manage wolves, part of which includes reintroducing wolves by the end of 2023.

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This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Meeker cattle deaths remain mystery to wildlife, livestock experts