A Scientist Videotapes Two Dead Pigs in the Sonoran Desert to Find How Long Their Bodies Take to Decompose

María Esquinca

                 Compared to fences, motion sensors, drones, and infrared cameras, the best and most lethal

                   weapon the Border Patrol has is nature.

                        —Jose De León, The Land of Open Graves

It only takes a couple of hours for a turkey vulture to smell carrion

to stand a couple of feet away from the carcass, to wait for the skin to soften, to pierce.

It only takes five days for vultures to descend. To test if dead. To peck at the body. To tear.

To make a hole at the back of the neck, right behind the ear. To get at the brain.

Pigs are used because they have long been a proxy for humans,


Pigs are dressed as immigrants. Bra, underwear, grey T-shirt, jeans, sneakers

toddler sized, large enough to cover their tiny pettitoes.

Pigs can be a proxy for humans,


Birds of prey undress the dead,

shred shirt, rip jeans.

Bird beaks rip stomach, play tug of war

with the intestines.

Vultures can be a proxy for humans, too.

They carry the limbs away, like little gifts, like to-go-boxes they can eat later,

like convenient carryout.

By Sabbath, they drag what’s left of the body.

20 meters up a hill.

On the ninth day picked clean, hardly

anything left.

The second pig, was placed under a pile of rocks, because scientists tried to replicate

how immigrants will bury the dead.

Under 115℉, a pile of rocks acts as a conductor, roasts the second pig. Unearthed

by ants who chip at long bones, carry the pieces to an ant hole a meter away.

In a town nearby a domestic dog came home with a piece of bone.

Dogs piss on the carcass. Gnaw bone like play toys.

Dogs can be a proxy for humans, too.

Scientists used to argue the desert preserves bodies. Hypothesized it took a month before


The government count of immigrant deaths is based on the number of bodies found.

The government says the desert does not discriminate.

Scientists now say the official number is an undercount. They say: this is an environment where

people can be erased.

They debate: who is responsible?

They say pigs have long been a proxy for humans.


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