A total of 42 wild burros from the Clark Mountain Herd Area in the Mojave Desert in California have been found shot to death since May in what officials declare as one of the largest killings of its kind on land overlooked by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Currently, BLM and animal rights groups have pooled their funds to offer nearly $60,000 in reward money to find the guilty party.

“The cruelty involved in shooting these burros and leaving them to die warrants prosecution to the fullest extent of the law,” BLM’s Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley said in a statement Wednesday. “We thank the animal welfare groups for adding their voices to those organizations who value these iconic symbols of the West.”

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BLM spokesperson Sarah Webster told the Washington Post that many of the slain burros appear to have been shot from a distance with a rifle aimed at their necks. Victims include both adult burros and foals who were innocently drinking from a water hole when the killer struck.

The Platero Project— a collaboration between the BLM and the Humane Society of the US (HSUS)— has offered $32,500 in reward money. Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, American Wild Horse Campaign, Return to Freedom and The Cloud Foundation have also contributed to the fund, plus additional donations by both BLM and HSUS independent of Platero.

Originally from North Africa, burros were first introduced to North America by the Spanish but wound up wild when they wandered off, were set free by dejected miners or survived their prospector owners.

After finding a home in the desert land of Southern California, the wild burro populations grew exponentially, doubling every four to five years. By the 1950s the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals intervened due to excessive killings and called upon the government to enact proper legislation for their protection.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act has protected them against animal cruelty and animal abuse since 1971, charging anyone caught harming, capturing or killing a burro with fines up to $2,000 or a year in prison. If apprehended, the offender responsible for the 42 burro deaths can face up to 42 years in prison.

Via Ecowatch

Image via BLM