August 24, 2010

Dozens of burros die at dried-up spring

The Press-Enterprise

Fenner Spring CA - Nearly 60 burros were discovered dead in and near a horizontal mine shaft in a remote Mojave Desert wilderness area late last week, federal officials said Tuesday.

The animals probably were seeking water from a spring inside the tunnel that apparently had dried up. In all, 56 burros died, most likely of thirst, BLM officials said.

Some of the animals had been dead for as long as two weeks and were decomposing in the 100-degree-plus heat, said a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Land Management. Bureau officials saved the lives of another 13 burros that were suffering from severe dehydration.

A helicopter delivered 750 gallons of water to the site, about 35 miles west of Needles, on Thursday. By the next morning, all of that water had been consumed. Another 4,000 gallons were brought in by helicopter and a county water tender and placed in portable troughs.

The survivors remained at the remote site on Tuesday but probably will be moved to the federal corrals in Ridgecrest, nearly 200 miles away, officials said.

While BLM officials believe the 56 burros most likely died from lack of water, they are checking the possibility that they consumed contaminated water in the mine tunnel, Briery said

Fenner Spring, inside the 6-by-6-foot tunnel, is a regular water source for wild burros, said BLM spokesman David Briery.

But the spring appeared to have dried up, he said. The next available source of water is about 12 miles away.

Briery said the burros had pushed as far as 30 feet into the tunnel.

"They just started piling in," Briery said.

Alex Neibergs, a BLM horse and burro specialist, said the spring probably was their only water source. He said one of the animals may have become stuck in the tunnel and blocked the others.

"I have never seen anything like it," said Neibergs, one of several BLM officials who went to the scene on Thursday and Friday .

The dead burros were discovered by a rancher who grazes cattle near the Piute Mountains Wilderness Area, Briery said. He tried to pull the bodies out of the tunnel with his horse, but couldn't, Briery said.

Working in temperatures as high at 105, BLM officials removed the bodies, then used heavy equipment to bury them.

Wild burros have roamed the Mojave Desert since they were brought to the area by gold and silver prospectors. The BLM regularly captures them and holds them in federal corrals in Ridgecrest. They are then made available for adoption.