The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning: The Search, Pt III

On August 4th, a team that consisted of Shari Forbes, a few Calgary Police Services Canine Unit officers and me, put out four pig carcasses in the wilds outside of Calgary so that we may see what scavenged upon them and eventually — hopefully — scattered the pigs’ remains.

On September 2nd, we returned, with some help from Edmonton Police Services members and a Lethbridge member, to see what, if anything had happened.

Shari had set-up cameras at each carcass so that we could remotely monitor any big events. But the actual dispersal of remains, if it existed, would be unknown until we revisited each site and performed a search.

September 2nd was the search day.

We didn’t know what to expect.

This is the third of four posts outlining what we found at each of the four sites.

A farmer owned some land northwest of Calgary and agreed to let us place two carcasses there. Like at the other location, two pig carcasses were dressed in human clothing. Each carcass was placed at least 100 metres apart to discourage cross-dispersal of remains. And each carcass was placed in either an ‘open’ or ‘forested’ environmental context.

This location was about 35 kilometres NNE from the other location, so it was a bit closer to Calgary, and out of the forested foothills. This location was characterized by farmland with patches of aspen, pine, and spruce trees in gently rolling to undulating topography.

Setting up the ‘open’ site in a treed patch that is surrounded by farmland.

There was a patch of trees and bush about 100 m by 300m adjacent to a gravel road and otherwise surrounded by cultivated farmland. We chose this location for our carcasses. At one end of the patch of trees was a cleared area; this was our ‘open’ site. At the other end of the patch of trees, we placed the carcass in a small gathering of spruce trees. This was our ‘forested’ site.

Up to our search date, the cameras had recorded birds, a black bear, a skunk, and a few deer….and that was about it. There was a remarkable LACK of activity at this site. The carcass hadn’t moved and it had barely been scavenged.

When we arrived here, we’d just come from our mountain location. The two sites at that location (read about them here and here) consisted of dispersed skeletal remains, and had had lots of scavenger visits. This site, however, was completely different: very little animal activity and next to no scavenging.


We were left scratching our heads.

A deer, a black bear, and birds (magpies) were among the first visitors at this site.

Or rather, my team was confused. I’d seen this before.

Sometimes it takes a while for the scavengers — or the scavengers who do the dispersal of the remains — to show up and do what they do. This is especially true of cagey coyotes.

The first coyote captured by our cameras on August 31st.

Sure enough, when I reviewed the photos, the first coyote was captured on August 31, nearly a whole month after we’d placed the carcass at the site. This was a distinct difference from the grizzly bear who visited our ‘forested’ site in the mountains within SIX HOURS after we’d placed the carcass!

When we visited this site on September 2nd, we saw that scavenging had begun.

But only just.

The carcass on August 4th (left) and again on September 2nd (right), showing scavenging evidence on the head.

After our visit on September 2nd, it was quiet for a few days. Then….

A coyote is captured on camera on September 7th…and seemed to stay for a while.

A coyote appeared on September 7th.

And seemed to stick around.

Then others showed up too.

Had we interrupted something when we’d visited the site on September 2nd?


Will the coyotes continue to stay, gather, and scavenge this carcass? Will the remains be dispersed? Stay tuned!

What did we learn from this site?

  1. Activity at this site appears to be completely different compared to the sites in the mountains.
  2. Further investigation is needed to see:
    1. What scavengers show up
    2. What scavengers, if any, disperse the remains
    3. When scavengers show up.

In short, we needed to adjust our expectations at this site. We needed to be patient!

Stay tuned for the search of Site #4 and what we found there!

Further Reading

Edmonton Journal – Dead pigs used in Edmonton animal scavenging study will help improve human remains investigations: police, forensic expert

Scattered Podcast

Bone Search and Recovery Short Course

Kjorlien, Beattie, Peterson – Scavenging activity can produce predictable patterns in surface skeletal remains scattering: Observations and comments from two experiments

The Smell of Dead Pig in the Morning: The Search, Pt I, Pt II and Pt IV.

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