Vet on Call: Dead animals do tell plenty of tales

Friday April 14 2017
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Farmer, Onesmus Mutuku, with his pigs in his farm in Mombasa. Examination of livestock is important and mandatory in legal proceedings and compensation for death of insured animals or animals whose death was caused by activities of a third party. PHOTO | MATHIAS RINGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


There is an old saying that dead men tell no tales. Well, as a veterinary surgeon, I know dead men do tell a lot of tales; it all depends on who is their audience.

That brings me to a case few months back involving Moses, a farmer in Garden Estate, Nairobi.

“Doctor, one of my young select breeding replacement pigs has just died suddenly. Kindly come?” he told me on phone.

I found the carcass still warm as I had just attended to a case in a nearby farm. The pig was about seven months old and was a really good potential breeder.

He asked if I thought it was a serious disease that could affect the other pigs. “Well, I’ll have to do a full post-mortem examination before I can respond to your question,” I replied.

“Doctor, we just heard Karani shout that a pig had collapsed and died,” Nzuki, the farm head volunteered.


Karani and another worker quietly stood observing the dead pig. I examined the carcass. Save for some small amounts of fresh blood in the nostrils and a reddened patch on the forehead, everything else looked normal.

I instructed Nzuki to have the carcass moved to an empty pen, away from the surviving pigs to avoid causing distress to the animals when I opened it for full examination.

I laid out my post-mortem instruments, including sample collection bottles and began the meticulous exercise.

Deep in the right ear, I could see traces of fresh blood. I removed the skin from the head and carefully examined the underlying tissues starting with the reddened forehead patch.


There was a lot of bleeding under the skin and in the muscles covering the bone. There was a similar occurrence below the right ear but the injury was a short line rather than a circle.

As I did the examination, I asked Moses and his workers to observe my findings for discussions later. I systematically opened the whole carcass and scrutinised the organs in the chest and abdomen. There were no other abnormalities.

Finally, I opened the skull starting with the area of the reddened patch. There were three fracture lines, radiating from the centre of the injury.

There was bleeding into the nasal cavity, the brain and the right ear canal. The cause of death was now clear in my mind. The dead pig had told me its death story.

I straightened from my stooping post-mortem examination position and realised Karani was not present.

“He excused himself to visit the washroom,” Nzuki replied after I enquired. His absence immediately raised a red flag.

My findings showed the pig had been hit hard on the forehead with a flat object and on the side of the head below the right ear with a thin blunt object. There was no need for me to take tissue samples.

I told Moses that the offending murder weapon was likely a heavy spade, like the ones used for shovelling out pig waste from the pens. Karani was the top suspect and his disappearance further implicated him.

Nzuki left to check on him and returned a few minutes later and reported Karani had packed his valuables and disappeared.

His phone was switched off. I advised Moses to report the matter to the police so that Karani could be arrested and charged with being cruel to animals and causing malicious death of a pig.


He is still at large, the reason farmers should have proper details of all their employees.

Moses asked me to organise an animal welfare training for his staff to prevent reoccurrence of similar incidents.

Many farmers ignore post-mortem examination, claiming there is no need of spending more money on an already dead animal. It is always important to carry out the examination whenever the cause of death is unclear.

In some cases, like anthrax where animals are killed by diseases that also affect humans, post-mortem examination helps in controlling the spread of diseases to people.

The examination is important and mandatory in legal proceedings and compensation for death of insured animals or animals whose death was caused by activities of a third party.

A good example is when animals are killed by electrocution from faulty power lines. The farmer would seek compensation from the power company but there must be a credible post-mortem report showing that the animals died of electrocution.

The doctor who carries out post-mortem examination is called a pathologist. All veterinary surgeons are trained and qualified to carry out post-mortem examination on animals and they are required by law to issue a signed report.

Pathologists are also legally obliged to give expert evidence, on any case they have handled and written reports in legal proceedings.