Nearly 60 burros were discovered dead in and near a horizontal mine shaft late last week in the Mojave Desert wilderness area, federal officials announced this morning. The site is roughly 35 miles west of Needles.
Some of the animals had been dead for as long as two weeks and were decomposing. In all, 56 died.
Officials with the federal Bureau of Land Management believe the animals most likely died of thirst but they were investigating the possibility that the animals may have consumed contaminated water inside the mine tunnel.
A natural spring about 30 feet into the six-by-six foot tunnel made it a regular water source for wild burros, said BLM spokesman David Briery. The spring, however, appeared dry when the dead burros were discovered. The nearest other source of water is about 12 miles away.
One burro died at the spring and others followed, apparently in search of water. "They just started piling in," Briery said.
The burros were discovered by a rancher on Thursday.
A BLM helicopter delivered 750 gallons of water for 13 surviving burros.The next morning all the water had been consumed. Another 4,000 gallons were brought in by helicopter and a county water tender.
BLM officials removed dead burros from the old mine tunnel as desert temperatures reached 110. Heavy excavation equipment was used to bury them. The mine shaft is in the Piute Mountains Wilderness Area.
Wild burros have roamed the Mojave Desert since they were brought to the area by gold and silver prospectors.
The BLM regularly rounds ups and captures burros and holds them in federal corrals in Ridgecrest. The animals are then made available for adoption.
-- DAVID DANELSKI