These are dark days for bovines. In northeastern Colorado, 50 cows keeled over this summer, most likely from anthrax, which thrives during drought. That sad news came on the heels of a grisly spate of livestock mutilations in the western part of the state. A horse near Gunnison was shot and its head skinned and its anus removed, according to the Denver Post. A nearby cow suffered a similar fate, the fourth such incident in the area this year. "It looks like a ritualistic issue," rancher Mike Clarke told the Post. "Either that, or they are high on drugs (the mutilators, not the cows). There is just no logical explanation." Southern Colorado's been plagued, on and off, by mysterious livestock dissections ever since "Snippy" the horse was eviscerated in the San Luis Valley in 1967, and speculation, logical and illogical, is rife about who or what is doing the slicing and dicing. Suspects include the aforementioned satanic junkies, space aliens (naturally), agents from a secret military installation near Dulce, N.M., doing genetic tests, and faddish chefs trying to satisfy a new culinary hankering for sauted l'anus de la vache. (We just made that last one up, but these days, who knows?)
One way to find out who's responsible for animal killings is to stake out local pastures. That tactic, reports the Albuquerque Journal, sort of worked for the prairie dog advocate/vigilantes trying to bust whoever shot a dozen or more of the rodents at a particular intersection in Santa Fe. Prairie dog vigilante Steve Dobbie was keeping watch when he caught Steve Wienke - a guest scientist at Los Alamos who works on algorithms - taking a pop at the p-dogs with a pellet gun. Wienke told police that he had never shot at these particular rodents before; he just happened to notice them as he was getting cash at the ATM and figured they were good targets. Dobbie told the Journal that he would continue to watch over the p-dog colony until the animals go into hibernation.
It's been hot lately. Damned hot. Phoenix, Ariz., Palm Springs, Calif., and other Western torrid zones posted temperatures of more than 100 degrees every day during the first two weeks of August. Death Valley's high exceeded 115 degrees on 14 out of those 14 days, and on one occasion reached 126 degrees. And Phoenix's low never dropped below 90 for seven days straight. It's enough to make you want to go jump in a river or a lake. If you can find one, of course, and it isn't teeming with leeches. "Bloodsuckers prey on foothill swimmers," was the recent headline in the Calaveras (Calif.) Enterprise, disappointing Twilight fans, once they realized no actual hot vampires were involved. Apparently, folks cooling off in a local reservoir discovered leeches attached to various parts of their bodies. Despite health officials' assurances that the slimy things are harmless, the horrified swimmers vowed never to jump in that lake again.
With all this talk about anthrax, cows, leeches, algorithmic shooters and prairie dogs, one could be forgiven for thinking conspiracy is afoot. Throw in the extraordinary number of recent wildfires, and it's pretty clear what's going on: Russian terrorists, aided by elements within the U.S. military, have invaded the West and are burning it down, for motives way too complex to explain. That's the thrust of a recent piece at beforeitsnews.com and an email sent to Heard Around the West from someone called "patriotnews." The evidence includes alleged sightings of Russians loitering at isolated shooting ranges and popular tourist sites, plus the existence of "an advanced accelerant" that is "almost nuclear in its ability to spread fire." Given this summer's conflagrations, we're not surprised: All this record-breaking heat, near-record drought and a century of fire suppression can lead to almost nuclear-impact fires. Strangely enough, no one has mentioned the Eagle Mountain fire in Utah, which charred part of a mock Afghan town on a military range while sparing real "American" houses. Suspicious, indeed!
Don't worry about the Russians invading; fear the Wyoming ground squirrel, instead. It was once limited to the northern parts of Colorado, but has recently migrated west and southward, creating a "horror story" for that region's ranchers and the longtime local golden-mantled ground squirrels, says the Denver Post. The newcomer is more aggressive than its old-timer counterpart, has more babies, eats more and digs bigger holes. Worst of all, it's not as cute as the local guy. Post reporter Nancy Lofholm says it is "a blah greyish color and shaped like a pink-nosed torpedo. It doesn't much like trying to play cute with humans and has been observed actually wrestling down its chipmunk-like cousins." Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, Colo., ground zero for the invasion, are interested because they believe the newcomer may displace the golden-mantled variety altogether. Interestingly, the new squirrel seemed to show up at about the same time, and in the same region, as the previously mentioned cattle mutilations. Coincidence? Or conspiracy? Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor for High Country News (hcn.org) in Durango.