CPW still doesn’t know what killed 40 cattle in Meeker

Cows stand on pastureland north of Gypsum on Sept. 14, 2022. Wolves were the original suspect as about 40 cattle near Meeker were found dead in a matter of weeks, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife's investigation found no evidence of wolves, but also couldn't determine what killed the cattle.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Colorado Parks and Wildlife still doesn’t know what killed dozens of cattle near Meeker in a case that has been described by officials as “perplexing.”

Wolves were initially suspected, but the agency has not been able to find any trace of them in the area since livestock started showing up dead in October. In a news release on Tuesday, Feb. 7, CPW officials said they have officially closed the investigation without determining exactly what led to the animal’s demise.

“Although a few cattle showed wounds consistent with injuries from large canines, further investigation to collect additional evidence has yielded no confirmation of wolves in the area,” said Travis Black, the agency’s northwest regional manager, in the news release.

As the 90-day window allowing producers to provide proof that animals had been killed has expired, the agency is closing the investigation, Black said. Still, the investigation showed that injuries to a few of the calves were consistent with a canine attack.

Wildlife officials did discover a pack of nine domestic dogs that were harassing wildlife about 7 miles away from where livestock were found dead, which the release says cast further doubt that wolves could have been to blame.

“Based on the hide damage and muscle trauma to the animals, we believe these few cattle were likely killed or injured and died later, by some species of canine larger than coyotes,” Black said. “But we do not have specific evidence to determine what species of canid cause the depredations.”

About 40 cattle turned up dead over several weeks, but only a handful of them had any sign that they were attacked. These animals also had no sign of feeding that wildlife officials would have expected to see if wolves had killed them.

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The agency used trail cameras, howling surveys and aerial flights to find any trace of wolves, but Black told the CPW Commission in November that there was little evidence to suggest another group of wolves had mad their way into Colorado ahead of this year’s voter-mandated reintroduction of the species.

The agency also consulted with veterinarians to see if there was a health component, potentially exacerbated by the presence of a predator, that caused cattle to die, but experts from two universities couldn’t find evidence for that either.

CPW’s release said they are continuing to explore what health issues could have led to the cattle’s death.

“We’re scratching our heads,” Black told the commission.

Lenny Klinglesmith, whose cattle have been killed in this case, will no longer pursue compensation for the cattle, the release said.

“The Klinglesmith family would like to thank the local (wild life officials) and veterinary staff for the many hours spent in the field and the office investigating this incident,” Klinglesmith said.

Wolves have killed livestock in the North Park area near Walden, but those instances included evidence of feeding, which made it easier for wildlife officials to form conclusions. CPW collared two North Park wolves last week, after GPS tracking devices stopped working last year.

The pack in North Park, which at one time had as many as eight wolves, contains the only confirmed wolves in Colorado. Two migrated into the state from Wyoming and then had six offspring.

Wolf reintroduction needs to take place by the end of the year, according to the ballot language that Colorado voters narrowly approved in 2020. Based on CPW’s draft plan to disperse wolves on the landscape, between 10 and 15 wolves will be released in an area that includes South Routt County by Dec. 31.

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