UINTAH BASIN — It's been about four years since a Las Vegas millionaire purchased a ranch in west Uintah County and established a scientific outpost to research reports of UFO sightings and cattle disappearances on the property.

Robert T. Bigelow's National Institute of Discovery Science, still maintains a presence in the area. The ranch, south of Fort Duchesne, is regularly staffed by NIDS researchers and the organization remains interested in suspected animal mutilations and sightings of unidentified aircraft in Duchesne and Uintah counties.

In fact, it is very serious business for the privately funded Las Vegas-based research organization staffed with 15 scientists and consultants holding Ph.D.s and equipped to investigate such anomalies. NIDS focuses on scientific exploration that emphasizes emerging, novel and sometimes unconventional observations and theories, said Colm Kelleher, NIDS deputy administrator.

Before any scientific research can begin, however, cases of animal mutilation and UFO sightings must be quickly reported, and that's where NIDS is asking for help from Uintah Basin residents.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Uintah Basin was a recognized hot spot for sightings of unexplained objects in the night sky. While sightings continue to be reported, they are nowhere near the numbers of 30 and 40 years ago.

In the past year NIDS has received calls regarding six mutilation cases involving cattle and horses in the Uintah Basin and Utah. The problem is that the calls have come too late to conduct any real scientific analysis, Kelleher said.

"Once it goes beyond 72 to 96 hours after death it becomes very difficult to do any meaningful sampling," he said. "We would really prefer a system where ranchers and farmers would be more aware of us and able to inform us sooner than a week after the event."

Pete Pickup lives in Randlett, Uintah County, and works as a full-time field investigator for NIDS in the Uintah Basin. Whenever a suspected mutilation or unusual aircraft sighting in the Uintah Basin is reported to NIDS, Pickup is dispatched to investigate. A 26-year law enforcement veteran with years of experience when it comes to probing possible animal mutilations and reports of UFOs, Pickup goes to the scene and begins taking blood samples, photographs, tissue samples, compass readings, and interviews with the animal's owner.

"Cattle mutilations need to be reported as soon as possible, because after they have decayed, it's almost impossible to do an accurate analysis on tissues and samples," Pickup said.

All information is kept confidential and names of callers and witnesses are never released. All testing and necropsy costs are paid in full by NIDS. And in the right cases, money is no object, said Kelleher.

"There are a lot of organizations that you can report to, but we will go to the limits of the scientific technology available," he said. "There is a very big difference between making a report and having a case fully investigated. If we feel a case is strong enough, we will go to the wall." In the fall of 1998, NIDS did that on a reported cattle mutilation in Duchesne County, spending upward of $10,000 to investigate a case involving a cow that was missing an eye, ear and fetus, after it was reported within hours of being killed.

The case remains one of the more intriguing investigated by NIDS because it was relatively fresh and a good amount of tissue and blood samples could be taken. Tests, which NIDS had conducted at two separate veterinary laboratories at university research facilities, confirmed the animal's left eye and the portion of its left ear were removed with a sharp instrument and not by scavengers. In addition, there was no sign of a fetus.

Currently NIDS is actively investigating the June 25 sighting of an enormous, spherical-shaped object spotted between Fort Duchesne and Randlett. A witness called NIDS to report the sighting and was able to provide enough details to enable scientists to estimate the glowing object was close to the size of four football fields.

"It was making a rhythmic sound and there was a light going on and off at the same time. We were able to estimate altitude and distance from the observer based on the speed of sound," Kelleher said.

"The fresher the case, the faster we can get on to investigating it. We beat the bushes to find out if anyone else has seen something like this. We regard the timely report of a UFO as equally important as a timely report of an animal mutilation," Kelleher said.

Calls and reports to NIDS are carefully screened to weed out possible hoaxes, he added.

"Last year we checked out reports from 530 people around the world . . . we corroborate all reports with additional eyewitnesses if possible, so we can fairly well distinguish between hoaxes, perceptions or delusions," he said, adding that several psychologists employed by NIDS also aid in determining authenticity.

Kelleher said Uintah Basin residents calling to report an animal mutilation or unusual aircraft sighting should first contact Pickup at 1-435- 545-2466 or on his pager, 1-435-646-1538. To contact the NIDS 24-hour hotline, call 1-702-798-1700.

NIDS can be reached by e-mail at nids@anv.net">nids@anv.net .

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