Game warden looks into suspicious death of horse

A horse belonging to Sarah Wilkerson was found dead with what she thought appeared to be bite wounds on the front of its neck in a pasture located on Lane 13 near the Emblem Highway. According to Wilkerson the mare was healthy and only 6 years old. She was sharing the pasture with nine other horses, a goat and a pony.

Was it a mountain lion?

“One of the neighbors noticed she was down on Friday afternoon and then someone else checked on Saturday and she was already dead,” said Wilkerson.

Since the horse’s body was in poor condition after being dead for so many days, Wilkerson called Brad Baxendale to bury her. According to Wilkerson, she noticed in photographs taken after the horse’s death what she thought looked like bite wounds on the underside of the horse’s neck. Wilkerson was very attached to the horse and too distraught over its death to look at its mangled body.

Baxendale thought the wounds looked more like “peck wounds” from the many birds that were feeding on the carcass.

Lovell Game warden Jim Hobbs was called on Tuesday but could not confirm that the horse died due to a wild animal attack because the horse had already been buried. He was shown photographs of the wounds and of the animal tracks found near the body. Since the horse had been dead for five days and had been fed on by wild animals during part of that time, the body was in poor condition at the time it was photographed, making it difficult to determine what may have caused its death.

“It’s a shame they didn’t call me sooner,” said Hobbs, “because we are specially trained to examine the wounds to determine what kind of animal may have done this.”

According to Wilkerson, numerous animal tracks were found near the body. Some were large canine tracks and a few that she thought could be mountain lion tracks. Unfortunately the rain during that time period obscured the tracks eliminating another piece of evidence that may have helped Hobbs determine if the horse died because of wounds sustained in a wild animal attack. Baxendale said that he didn’t recall seeing animal tracks at the scene when he was there.

Hobbs didn’t think the location of the wounds would be typical for a mountain lion. He also noted that it was not partially buried the way a mountain lion would typically leave a kill. He further noted that it would be unusual for a mountain lion to attack a large animal like a horse if smaller “less risky” prey–like the goat and the pony—were available.

“Mountain lions usually attack from behind, not from underneath,” explained Hobbs. “An attack from underneath is more typical of a canine attack. If I would have been called sooner, I could have examined the wounds themselves and the animal tracks to determine what kind of animal may have done this.”

According to Hobbs it would not be out of the ordinary to see a mountain lion in that area, and some sightings have been reported. It would be unusual to see wolves in that area and he has had no reports of sightings of wolves there.

Hobbs urges people to call him directly if they see a mountain lion, wolves, tracks or evidence of a predatory kill in the future. In the meantime, he advised that people should not necessarily be fearful of the wild animals that share the environment with us.

“If a lion or any other wild animal is causing problems call us right away so we can remove it from the area,” said Hobbs. “If there is a kill don’t wait to call us and don’t move anything before we have a chance to investigate it.”

Hobbs is the new game warden for the Lovell area. He can be reached at 548-7310.

By Patti Carpenter – Reporter

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