FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Mystified wildlife scientists are
puzzling over the strange fate of 53 caribou which appear to have
simultaneously dropped dead in their tracks.
The carcasses were found lying in a peculiar circular arrangement on range
land near the Fort Greely military reservation, about 100 miles south of here.
So far, no cause of death has been found and several theories - including
starvation, avalanche, lightning, shooting and chemical weapons - have been
“They were all drawn up in a circle, like Custer’s last stand,” said Ken
Neiland, a wildlife disease specialist with the Alaska fish and game
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen or heard of anything like it.”
The caribou - 48 adults and five calves - were found in late June by a patrol
from Fort Greely and first examined by wildlife officials several days later.
Neiland said the presence of calves indicates the animals had probably been
dead for only about two weeks, since the earliest likely calving date is June
Most of the carcasses were within 10 feet of each other in an elongated circle
50 to 75 yards in diameter.
Neiland said they had been fed on by grizzlies and eagles and were in an
advanced state of decomposition which has made the task of analysing their
deaths more difficult.
Samples of bone marrow and internal organs have been sent to the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service toxicology laboratory in Denver, Col., but Neiland is not
optimistic of a definite finding.
“It’s going to take some fairly tricky analysis on their part,” he said. “I
would say it’s unlikely they will come up with enough facts to be reasonably
sure of what caused death - I think the best thing we will come up with is
Neiland told the Fairbanks News Miner that ‘the theory that it might have been
beings from a different planet testing weapons is as good as anything we have
But he hastened to explain to The Sun Tuesday: “That’s a completely facetious
thing. Let’s not get started on anything like that.
“I think it’s something right here on the face of good old earth that
Whatever it was, Neiland believes it was something that happened rapidly.
“It’s so unlikely that if they died over a period of time, they would all be
in one spot,” he said. “The peculiar grouping really makes things difficult to
Compounding the mystery is the presence of several other herds of caribou in
the same area one within a mile of the dead herd — which appeared to be