Camera Trap Catches Deer Gnawing Human Remains

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Researchers reviewing footage at a Texas forensic research facility were startled to see an unfamiliar face hovering over a decomposing human body. They described their discovery in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Texas State University's Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (FARF) is what’s known colloquially as a body farm: a large area of indoor and outdoor space where scientists can study the effects of various influences on decaying human remains. The research conducted at FARF and other forensic facilities helps us understand what happens after we die, and it informs law enforcement as they investigate crimes.

The folks at FARF are used to seeing strange and unpleasant things. Camera traps posted near bodies throughout the landscape allow them to watch as scavengers like foxes and birds move in. But until they pulled the footage from January 2015, nobody there—or anywhere else—had ever seen a human-eating deer.

(Warning: the images below are, well, exactly what you think they’re going to be. Proceed gingerly.)

Meckel et al., J Forensic Sci 2017

Ungulates like deer, sheep, and even giraffes have been known to gnaw bones in the wild from time to time; the theory is that they’re after some nutrients that they haven’t been able to get elsewhere. Still, human bones are something different altogether.

This was not just some weird deer having a weird day. The camera traps captured a deer (possibly the same deer, possibly not) on two separate occasions that month holding a human rib bone in its mouth “like a cigar,” as the researchers write. The body had lain in that spot for six months.

Meckel et al., J Forensic Sci 2017

The findings have implications beyond merely creeping us out. If chowing down on human remains is something that deer do, even occasionally, it’s a factor that forensic law enforcement will need to consider in future investigations.

[h/t Popular Science]