Forensic examination of a decapitated rabbit: interdisciplinary investigations on perpetrators traces

03 Dec 2019

Meier, S. M., Dennler, M., Martinez, R. M., Albini, S.

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A pet rabbit was found dead outside its enclosure; the head was missing. The investigation of cruelty to animals was commissioned, as decapitation might result from human mutilation, for example, due to occult rituals or neighbourhood disputes. A first external examination showed circular disruption rostral of the pectoral girdle with lack of the head and palpable bone fragments of both forelimbs. CT scan revealed extensive, irregular trauma to soft tissues and skeleton. The decapitation left a cut-like but irregular, partially wave-like wound margin with multiple small triangular, divergent defects more closely examined by postmortem examination. Swabs from the margin of the wound and tissue samples were collected for forensic genetic analysis and histology. Considering these interdisciplinary investigation results combined with experts’ knowledge, a predator attack was highly likely. Further evidence on geographical distribution and physiological behaviour of putative predator species led to consensus on the identity of the most likely perpetrator: a red fox.