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25 wild horse foals die at federal facility. What killed them?

Wild mustangs that have been rounded up from BLM land wait in a temporary corrals in Litchfield near Susanville in 2010.
Wild mustangs that have been rounded up from BLM land wait in a temporary corrals in Litchfield near Susanville in 2010. Sacramento Bee file

Veterinarians investigating the death of 25 wild horse foals held at a federal facility near Susanville believe they suffered from colitis, an inflammation of the colon.

The foals, all born in captivity at Bureau of Land Management corrals in Litchfield, were from mares gathered in September 2016 from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory on the Modoc National Forest, said Jeff Fontana, a BLM spokesman.

Early this month, BLM wranglers noticed signs of a flu-like illness in some horses, all of which were housed in a single pen. They consulted with a veterinarian and treated the symptoms, but the condition of the foals gradually worsened, said Fontana, who reported the deaths Tuesday.

None of the other 300 mustangs in the main pastures of the corrals have shown any signs of illness, he said.

BLM officials have taken blood and tissue samples, and have hired an independent veterinarian to conduct additional tests as part of an investigation into the fatalities. They expect results, which could point to the cause of the colitis, within a few days, Fontana said.

Horses from the Litchfield corrals, which can hold as many as 1,000 animals, are offered for adoption under the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. Some have gone to Sacramento County as part of a sheriff's department program using inmates to train mustangs.

The September 2016 roundup from Devil's Garden brought in 221 horses, Fontana said. Over 100 were adopted, some going to New Mexico. Around 50 mares were given a birth control drug and returned to the herd territory in Modoc County.

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