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The Carcass Chronicles

Cheryl Bartz
Interlochen Public Radio
Coyote stands over what's left of a deer carcass. You will notice the hoof of the dead animal right next to the coyote's left front paw.

Every year, more than 50,000 cars hit deer in Michigan. When the deer is killed, some of the carcasses are claimed by the drivers and others are donated or landfilled. But what happens to the ones that are left to decompose?

From February through May 2021, I documented the decomposition of a road-killed deer through trail cams and an audio journal.

Editors note: We recommend listening to “The Carcass Chronicles” before enjoying the videos below.

I.  The Recycling Crew

I placed the carcass in an open field at the back of my property. The primary scavengers are shown in the order they visited the deer. It was an important food source for all these scavengers.

Recycling crew.mp4

II.  New Sheriff 

On March 16, a bobcat arrived. It claimed the carcass and had the most visible impact on this deer’s decomposition.

Bobcat arrives.mp4

III.  The Bobcat Reigns

The bobcat claimed the carcass by covering it with snow and vegetation and driving off would-be competitors for the food.

Bobcat Reigns.mp4

IV.  The Carcass Disappears

Eight days after the bobcat arrived, the carcass disappeared. Or so it seemed.

Carcass disappears.mp4

V.  The Bear

On May 12, a bear arrived. The bear was present for hours over the course of several visits, but only a few short clips are included here. That’s because they mostly show the bear eating with its back to the camera.


A note on the videos: The dates on some clips are out of order.  That’s because I used the video with the best view of the animal. Also, some of the dates are wrong. Rookie error, I didn’t realize it was necessary to reset the time on one of the cameras when the batteries were replaced.