LAKE HAVASU CITY – The New Year’s Eve shooting death of a young burro has ignited a firestorm on social media.
According to Needles, California resident Eileen Sparks, the burro was found by motorists inside the town of Oatman, the victim of a gunshot. The animal appeared to be dazed, she said, and unwilling to move from the roadway. A bullet wound was clearly visible against the burro’s body.
“We were driving in for the day when we saw him,” Sparks said. “Some off-roaders had gotten out of their vehicles … the pure shock on their faces made us stop. In our eight years coming here, we’ve never seen a burro that had been shot. They were trying to get him out of the road, but he just stood there.”
Another driver contacted authorities, Sparks said, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management dispatched a ranger to the scene. According to BLM officials, the burro’s injuries were so grave that the animal had to be euthanized.
“It’s one of the saddest things I’ve seen,” Sparks said. “My heart is broken. We need to find out who did this … I want to contribute to a reward to find out who did this.”
Sparks isn’t the only one. Oatman visitors and residents have spread the story through social media, quickly identifying the yearling as a familiar sight in the town. Topock resident Jason Briggs offered a $100 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the shooter. Other Oatman visitors have offered to contribute to the reward. Lake Havasu City resident Floriana Hanna, who advocates for animals via social media, has raised $500 in pledges for information about the shooting.
“Every one of the burros in Oatman are close to the locals and visitors,” Hanna said. “They’re very sweet and loving. They’ll walk right up to you, and I think that’s what happened. It broke my heart when I read what happened.”
Oatman is a tourist attraction with ties to the Old West. Spectators can see staged gunfights, and residents lead tours of the town’s long-defunct gold mine. The mine once employed domesticated burros as beasts of burden and freed them once they were no longer needed. The descendants of those animals have stayed in the same region. The burros are so docile that they have often been known to eat food from visitors’ hands.
Wild burros travel in herds throughout the Southwest, pitching through low desert valleys and rugged mountains in search of food. Arizona’s wild burros fall under the protection of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which makes illegal the act of injuring or killing a wild horse or burro anywhere in the U.S. Intentionally harming a wild horse or burro is punishable by fines of as much as $2,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.
According to BLM spokeswoman Dolores Garcia, field representatives of the agency will euthanize a wild animal only in extreme circumstances.
“The prognosis for recovery has to be poor or hopeless,” Garcia said. “It’s not outside the norm for rangers to euthanize an animal in such circumstances.”
BLM officials are pursuing the investigation, Garcia said, and have informed representatives from the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Game and Fish Department of the incident.
Mohave County residents with information as to the identity of the alleged shooter are encouraged to contact the BLM’s information desk at 928-718-3729.