Researchers at Texas State University say they have witnessed white-tailed deer chewing on human flesh and bones during a recent study.
In an unprecedented find, deer were spotted chewing on the remains of human ribs, during a study that looked at how human remains decompose in the wild.
The deer seemed eager to eat the human carcasses left in the wild, leaving researchers speechless.
Globalnews.ca reports: “We already knew that ungulates [hooved animals] tend to scavenge bones, but researchers have only seen it on non-human animal bones. We’ve never actually photographed deer scavenging on human bone before,” lead author Lauren Meckel told Global News.
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
Meckel and her co-authors at Texas State University’s department of anthropology placed donated human carcasses throughout an outdoor, 26-acre forensic research facility in San Marcos, Texas, to study their decay.
The team would often spot vultures or foxes scavenge on the bodies they placed throughout their research area, but they never observed deer to do anything more than sniff them.
But in early January 2015, their cameras caught a young white-tailed deer gnawing on a human bone. About a week later, they observed another deer – they aren’t sure if it was the same one – gnaw on the bones again.
“When we saw that image, it was quite surprising,” she said. “This was the first time we had seen them pick up a bone.”
The researchers noticed that the deer didn’t actually carry the bone away with it, and they were able to collect the bone to study the markings.
Meckel said these findings open up possibilities in advancing forensic science, especially to help police rule out certain markers on human remains during their investigations.
“Sometimes, when law enforcement find human remains, they’ll see evidence of scavenging and they might confuse it for trauma. Being able to identify the markings on the bone as from scavenging as opposed to trauma is really important. And being able to identify the scavenger, based on the markings on the bone, is really important,” she said.
As for why the deer nibbled on the human remains is yet to be determined, but the scientists have a couple of theories.
“It’s possible that they’re trying to obtain nutrients that were lost during a dormant season,” said Meckel. “Also, if young deer lose their antlers, and they’re trying to mature and grow [by chewing on the nutrient-rich bones], that’s another possible reason why it’s occurring.”