Central American authorities are spending more time than usual eyeballing the backsides of bovine this week, following a Honduran media report that claims drug cartels are using cattle to hoof drugs north to Mexico.
A recent article published in the Honduran daily La Tribuna reports —with rather curious precision— that each narco cow can carry between 88-132 pounds of carefully packaged cocaine in its intestines. The cattle are reportedly purchased in Nicaragua, back-loaded with drug packets somewhere along the early stages of the route, then lumber northward — presumably with a slight hemorrhoidal limp—followed by their stinky-handed minders.
It's a dirty job, but it's a résumé-builder for those on a certain career path.
La Tribuna's article is admittedly weakly sourced. But they're not the first ones to propose the narco-cow hypothesis. Last November, The Central American Federation of Meat Producers, during its electrifying annual gathering in Managua, warned that drug cartels are infiltrating their industry. Federation president René Blandón told anyone who would listen that drug traffickers are using livestock to smuggle cocaine from Nicaragua to Mexico, passing through Honduras and Guatemala en route.
Unfortunately for Blandón, the yearly meet of the Central American Federation of Meat Producers doesn't draw a ton of press, so his worrisome message fell mostly on a roomful of empty chairs.
Even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) says it doesn't know about the fabled narco cows of Central America, but agents say the allegation doesn't surprise them either.
Special Agent Eduardo Chavez, who works at DEA national headquarters, told me that no conceived method for smuggling drugs is too "far-fetched," because narcos have "all the time in the world to think of creative ways" to move their product. Plus, he noted, drug traffickers have already proven that they have no scruples about sticking drugs to uncomfortable depths inside people and animals— including puppies.
The Miami DEA office says they've seen enough drug-smuggling attempts to not be surprised by anything. "Drug traffickers are very creative, and they will do whatever they need to do to get the drugs to their destination," said special agent Mia Ro.
Central American authorities are more skeptical about the narco-cow claim. Honduran police spokesman Leonel Sauceda told me there's never been a case in his country's history of law enforcement catching drug traffickers smuggling cocaine inside cattle. The closest they've come, he said, was detecting cocaine hidden inside the false compartment of a cattle truck.
Then again, Sauceda says, authorities aren't exactly looking inside cows for drugs. "We have X-ray machines to search vehicles, but not animals," he said.
Nicaraguan cattle farmers are also dubious. Santiago Castillo, president of the Nicaraguan Federation of Cattle Farmers, which exports some 8,000 head of cattle to Honduras each year, says it's highly unlikely that drugs are being inserted into bovine in his country.
"In Nicaragua we have a lot security in the countryside; the police and military have a permanent security plan that is coordinated with the cattle industry 365 days a year," Castillo told Fusion in an email. "So unless there's any evidence of cases here, I think it's a matter for the Honduran authorities to investigate."
The quickest — and perhaps most dignified — way to get a large quantity of drugs into a cow would be to do so surgically. But it's a risky procedure. Castillo says performing any major abdominal surgery on a cow would cause a wound that needed time to heal, and leave a telltale scar on the animal's hide.
So that leaves just one way in, which involves lifting the tail and wrinkling the nose. But even then there's the risk that the animal's body will reject the foreign implant, leading to infection and illness. And if one of the drug packets leaks or bursts inside the cow's intestines, it would almost certainly kill the animal, or perhaps send it into orbit as it tries to jump over the moon.
In any event, the next time you eat a peculiarly seasoned steak, then find yourself up until 5 a.m. licking your gums and bragging in a rapid, breathless voice to anyone who will listen, you might want to ask your butcher where he sources his meat.