LOS ANGELES -- Someone has been killing the wild burros of California's Mojave Desert, and the Bureau of Land Management is offering up to $10,000 to anyone who can help catch the culprit or culprits.
Over the past three months, 42 burro carcasses containing gunshot wounds have been found scattered along a 60-mile (95-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 15, the main highway linking Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
The animals, like wild horses, are protected under federal law. Anyone found guilty of harassing, branding or killing one faces a fine of up to $2,000 and a year in jail.
More than that, burros are an enduring symbol of the American Southwest. With their pointy ears and distinctive "Hee-Haw" voices, they evoke a time when their sure-footedness in rocky terrain and ability to carry heavy loads long distances without complaint made them perfect pack animals for prospectors and others.
"Wild horses and burros are an iconic part of the American West and part of our national heritage," William Perry Pendley, BLM's deputy director for policy and programs, said in a statement Friday. "We will pursue every lead until we've arrested and prosecuted those responsible for these cruel, savage deaths, and we welcome the public's help to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice."
The same traits that allowed burros to thrive as pack animals have been ideal for their survival in the modern Mojave Desert, where their diet consists of various plant vegetation and they are able to go for long stretches without water.
As people have encroached on that territory over the years one of their biggest threats has been being hit by cars.
That was until the shootings began in May.
The reward offer is in addition to others of $2,500, $5,000 and $1,000 offered, respectively, by the American Wild Horse Campaign, Return to Freedom and The Cloud Foundation organizations.
"The persons who shot these innocent and beloved burros deserve to be brought to justice," said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. "We hope that an increase in the reward will lead to arrest and conviction for these cruel acts."
Persons with information about the killings are asked to call the federal WeTip hotline at 800-782-7463 or visit http://www.wetip.com