06/15/2012 01:49 EDT | Updated 08/15/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. SPCA says series of cat mutilations likely a coyote, not a human

VANCOUVER - The culprit responsible for a spate of mutilated cats in suburban Vancouver is more natural than evil, says an internationally-known forensic veterinarian who has looked into the case.

After months of speculation, the B.C. Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced Friday they believe the killer of the cats is another animal, likely coyotes.

It was feared the grisly remains were the work of a disturbed human.

Melinda Merck, who has worked on a similar case of cat mutilations in Florida and also helped out in the investigation of the massacre of sled dogs in Whistler, conducted necropsies on 40 animals — 20 cats, eight birds, one rabbit and a dog leg.

"A lot of the findings that we see with predation are different than what we might see with human involvement as far as mutilation," said Merck.

"The findings depend on the type of predator, it can be a domestic dog or it can be a more of a wildlife predator."

Some of the cats were found in two pieces, as if sawed in half, but Merck said it would not be difficult for a coyote to perform the damage.

The SPCA has closed the book on the case, but the RCMP still thinks human involvement may explain why some of the cats ended up in strange places, such as under a missing cat poster.

"From a policing perspective our files aren't closed at this point," said RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen. "There's a few outstanding incidents where there could quite possibly have been and quite likely was some post death-human involvement in regards to how and where the remains were found."

Thiessen said the individual who may be responsible for such an incident would "clearly have some personal issues."

Despite finding no evidence of human involvement in the killing of the cats, the SPCA said it does not regret telling the public a person could be responsible.

Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations, said the society took a cautious approach in case the perpetrator was someone who planned on eventually killing humans.

She said initial pathology reports on the dead cats found the wounds were consistent with a machete or a hatchet, leading the SPCA to announce the possibility of human involvement.

An inspector with the B.C. Conservation Service said there's a chance the killer is a bobcat, but agreed coyotes are the likely suspect.

But, he said the high number of cat deaths doesn't necessarily indicate a shortage of food for them.

"You may have one very active coyote in the neighbourhood or you may have a pack of coyotes specializing in killing house cats," said Doyle.

He said coyotes in urban areas may learn to depend on cats for a food source and the best thing for cat owners to do is keep their pets inside.

The B.C. Conservation Service will not be making any effort to hunt down and destroy the culprit or culprits until human lives are threatened.