Carl Junction farmer:Bear may have killed 9 cattle

By Jeff Wells

Globe Staff Writer

CARL JUNCTION, Mo. - Something savagely killed nine cattle on Brian Stevens' farm near Carl Junction, but no one knows for sure what sort of predator did the damage.

Stevens thinks it might have been a black bear that killed seven calves, 1 to 3 months old, and two cows, 4 and 6 years old, from Oct. 2 to Nov. 15. Other suspects include a mountain lion and a pack of coyotes.

The lost cattle were worth more than $6,000, and insurance will not cover the loss because they were not all killed in a single day, Stevens said.

Stevens reported the deaths to the Missouri Department of Conservation. "They say it is a big concern when someone loses three or four calves a year, but I lost nine," he said.

Stevens has a herd of about 130 cattle on his land northeast of Carl Junction, near Spring River. He said about 80 of the cattle were in the field where the attacks took place.

The predator or predators killed the calves in an open field at night and left bite marks on the jaws of the carcasses, he said. What baffled Stevens was that the cattle's meat was largely intact. Only the internal organs of the calves were removed.

A coyote or a pack of dogs would have ripped open the animals and eaten meat as well as organs, Stevens said. The killer did not tear into the mature cows. They appeared to have been terrorized and hounded to death, Stevens said, and they may have dropped from exhaustion.

Stevens said that around 11:30 on the nights of the attacks, he and his neighbors heard the cattle moan.

"It was a real eerie cry," he said.

The horses also ran wild around the fields, and the dogs joined in the chorus of screams, he said.

Stevens found the dead cattle while checking his herd the following mornings.

He at first blamed some sort of cat, perhaps a mountain lion, but there were aspects of the kills that suggest another type of predator, he said.

Stevens thinks he may have spotted the beast about 9 p.m. one day. He was removing hay from his barn when he heard his dogs barking and growling. He followed their yells and shone a spotlight in that direction. He said he saw the red hindquarters of an animal, possibly a black bear, as it fled.

He grabbed a gun and drove his truck to try to follow the beast. He spotted a pack of coyotes, but they weren't near where the dogs had chased the animal. The next day, he found another dead calf.

Stevens told his story to friends who hunt black bears. They showed him a skull from a bear, and the teeth resembled some of the marks in the dead cattle. He said his friends told him that black bears do not leave blood behind. The attacker of his cattle did not do so - another clue that the killer may be a bear, he said.

Scott Berger, a Conservation Department agent based in Joplin, said Stevens' case is the only recent report of an unidentified predator killing livestock in the Joplin area.

Berger said there have been no verified reports of mountain lions near Joplin, but five or six have been found dead throughout the state. Most mountain lions in Missouri are kept as pets, but a few may have been released into the wild by their owners, he said.

"We don't have a large breeding population," Berger said. "It's hard to say how many we have, but the number isn't as large as the number of reports that we get."

There are quite a few black bears in the state, Berger said, with most living in the southern part of the state.

John Thomas, also a Conservation Department agent in Joplin, went to Stevens' farm to investigate the cattle deaths. Calls to Thomas last week and on Monday were not returned.

Jim Braithwait, a Conservation Department wildlife management biologist, has set 10 traps for a large cat or coyote around the area where the cattle were killed. Nothing has been caught.

Black bears were once common in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation Web site. Settlers killed them for food, and by the 1840s they were rare in the northern part of the state. Fifty years later, they were thought to be almost extinct in the Ozarks.

Sightings became more frequent after 1959 to 1967, when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission released 254 black bears captured in Minnesota and Canada into the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.

According to the department, the black bear is the smallest bear in North America and the only one native to Missouri. Adult males weigh 200 to 600 pounds, and females weigh 100 to 300 pounds.

Max Peterson, interim director of the Wonders of Wildlife museum in Springfield and a retired chief of the U.S. Forest Service, has been in and out of Missouri woods for 50 years. He said he hasn't seen a black bear in the state, but he wouldn't be surprised to see one.

"I don't think they are numerous, but I think they are here," Peterson said. "If they aren't here, they will be soon."

Peterson said black bears like varied terrain and are curious. They often find their way into suburban areas, he said. But, after hearing a description of the wounds on Stevens' animals, Peterson said the killer probably was not a black bear. He also ruled out a coyote or wolf attack.

"That sounds more like a mountain lion," he said.

But mountain lions infrequently attack cattle, Peterson said.

Merle Rogers, a naturalist at Roaring River State Park, said there are black bears and mountain lions in Southwest Missouri. He said he hasn't seen any in the park, but a bear was spotted there last summer. A mountain lion was observed near Rocky Comfort this summer, he said.

Mountain lions bite the back of the neck, and crush the trachea or the skull of their prey, according to the state Conservation Department. They drag the carcass into dense cover and feed on the internal organs. They generally, but not always, cover their kill with dirt. Bobcats also live in Missouri and use many of the same killing techniques as mountain lions.

The kills may not totally fit the profile of black bears, mountain lions or coyotes, but Stevens still hopes to identify, and eliminate, the culprit.

He said conservation agents gave him permission to shoot the beast.

Stevens said he thinks the animal will be back in the winter when wild food becomes scarce. Until then, the murder of his cattle is an unsolved mystery.

Trending Video