New clues may shed light on killings of wild burros in Mojave Desert

BAKER, CA - OCTOBER 02, 2019 — One of the many skeletal remain of burros in an area that littered with dead burros in Halloran Springs, near city of Baker. Unknown shooter or shooters have killed 15 burros by high powered rifle not very far from highly traveled I-15 Freeway near Baker. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
One of the many skeletal remains of burros in Halloran Springs, near the city of Baker, Calif., in 2019. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

New information may offer clues in the killings of several wild burros in the Mojave Desert more than four years ago.

At least 42 wild burro carcasses with gunshot wounds were found in various states of decomposition along the Interstate 15 freeway corridor between Halloran Springs, Calif., and Primm, Nev., in the summer of 2019. Bureau of Land Management officials called it one of the largest killings of its kind on public land managed by the agency and vowed to find those responsible.

Now, BLM law enforcement agents have identified two vehicles of interest in the slayings of 19 of those burros, whose bodies were found on Aug. 13, 2019, according to a news release from the agency.

Surveillance cameras captured the trucks — a gray or silver 2008 Toyota pickup with flared fenders and a white 2008 Toyota pickup with a white camper shell, white rims and sunroof — traveling together that morning, officials said. The pickups, both of which have extended cabs and brush guards, were last seen at 6:32 a.m. in the parking lot of Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, according to authorities.

Burros are not native to the West’s deserts — they are descendants of the pack animals that miners and prospectors used more than a century ago. But they became some of the West's most valued resources: sure-footed in rugged terrain, capable of carrying heavy loads long distances, and withstanding extremes in temperatures of cold and heat.

In the 1920s and '30s, they were turned loose and replaced by Model A Fords and other vehicles. Since then, they have multiplied without restraint with few predators to check their numbers.

A man walks in the desert near shrubs.
Jacob Overson in October 2019 in an area that was littered with carcasses of dead burros in Halloran Springs, near Baker, Calif. Unknown shooter or shooters killed several burros not far from Interstate 15 near Baker. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

With populations that doubled every four to five years, they’ve managed to survive by feeding on the sage and wild growth of the Mojave Desert.

Today, the animals are protected from capture, branding, harassment or death under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which considers them an integral part of the natural system of public lands managed by the BLM.

BLM special agents have also identified a .30-06 caliber rifle as the weapon used to kill the 19 burros, according to the news release. Based on the projectiles recovered, the firearm may be vintage and could have been manufactured by Browning, Remington, Springfield, U.S. Military Arms, or Winchester, the BLM said. The agents believe the shooter or shooters used reloaded ammunition marked with red or orange paint on the bottom of the cartridges.

Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of those responsible and have asked anyone with knowledge of the crime to call (909) 987-5005.

Times staff writer Louis Sahagún contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.