Why wild burros are getting sick, dying from the flu in Southern California

Around 20 burros, or wild donkeyswho roam the foothills and canyons between Colton and Moreno Valley have died in recent weeks as a disease spreads among the herds.

The culprit, experts say, is a viral equine flu that started spreading in a herd or two in mid-June. Most of the young burros have started showing signs of infection, Inland Empire equestrian veterinarians and animal rescue officials said. Some donkeys were not vaccinated and died before they could receive treatment.

“The (equine) flu is spread through air droplets, water, nose-to-nose breathing,” and can be prevented with vaccines, said Chad Cheatham, vice president of the nonprofit rescue center. . DonkeyEarth. in the Reche Canyon area.

So far, 17 deaths have been reported in the region – most of them, 12, in the Moreno Valley region. But a doctor said the disease could not be transmitted to humans or other types of animals.

  • The burros move Wednesday, July 6, 2022, among the hills. Some of them are showing signs of illness, which officials say could be a viral infection spreading among the herds. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Some wild burros are showing signs of disease, which veterinarians...

    Some wild burros are showing signs of illness, which veterinarians believe could be a viral infection that spreads among herds or through drinking unnatural water. The burros, seen Wednesday, July 6, 2022, roam the Reche Canyon near Colton and the Box Springs Mountain area near the Moreno Valley. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A wild colt donkey rests atop a hill on Wednesday July...

    A wild colt donkey rests atop a hill on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A wild donkey, seen on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, shows no...

    A wild donkey, seen on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, shows no signs of illness. Vets see a viral infection moving among herds that roam Reche Canyon and the Box Springs Mountain area near Moreno Valley. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Wild donkeys are seen Wednesday, July 6, 2022. They live...

    Wild burros are seen Wednesday, July 6, 2022. They live in Reche Canyon and the Box Springs Mountain area near Moreno Valley. Some are showing signs of disease which has killed some of the animals. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A wild donkey, seen on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, shows no...

    A wild donkey, seen on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, shows no signs of illness. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Wild donkeys roam Wednesday, July 6, 2022, along Box Springs...

    Wild burros walk Wednesday, July 6, 2022 along Box Springs Mountain Road to Pigeon Pass Road north of Moreno Valley. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A wild donkey is seen on Wednesday July 6, 2022. Some...

    A wild donkey is seen Wednesday, July 6, 2022. Some have fallen ill and died, but this one shows no signs of illness. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • A wild donkey, seen on Wednesday July 6, 2022, seems...

    A wild burro, seen on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, appears to be in good health, but others have caught a viral infection that is spreading among herds and killing some of the animals. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Wild burros are seen Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Box...

    Wild burros are seen Wednesday, July 6, 2022 at Box Springs Mountain Park near Moreno Valley. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

DonkeyLand, a volunteer-run sanctuary and animal rescue center, has received frequent calls about sick or dying burros in Reche Canyon, between Colton and Moreno Valley, and surrounding areas.

Wild donkeys are seen in natural areas such as Reche Canyon and in the foothills along Box Springs Mountain, Pigeon Pass Road, Redlands Boulevard and San Timoteo Canyon Road. End of 2020, more than 40 burros have died from equine flu in the same field.

Last week, two deceased wild burros were sent to a state lab in San Bernardino for testing, a DonkeyLand press release said. Preliminary results were positive for equine influenza.

Brian Cronin, head of San Bernardino County Animal Care, said by email that the disease occurs primarily in Riverside County and the Moreno Valley. Representatives from Riverside County Animal Services, which rehabilitates animals, could not be reached Wednesday, July 6.

In San Bernardino County, burros have been identified in Reche Canyon, San Timoteo Canyon, and mountain communities and Parker Dam areas. Besides illnesses such as infection, they are sometimes injured, hit by cars or found dead, Cronin said.

Moreno Valley Animal Services Director Steve Fries said there have been six reported donkey deaths in the Redlands Boulevard and Locust and Juniper Avenues area of ​​the city. Lab results on two of the donkeys indicate they died of viral pneumonia with a secondary bacterial infection, Fries said.

“Wild donkeys are not vaccinated,” Fries said. “These donkeys are also social creatures, and they are often in close proximity to each other and share water resources, which leads them to come into close contact with an infected donkey.”

Those who work with donkeys don’t know if the same disease as in 2020 is hitting the animals, he said. Experts suggest equine owners get their animals vaccinated against equine flu and consult with veterinarians.

Dr. Paul Wan, a veterinarian from SoCal Equine Hospital in Norco and Apple Valley, symptoms of burros are visibly noticeable. They include foaming bubbles in the mouth, a runny or runny nose, coughing, labored breathing, and lethargy.

“They use their abdominal muscles to breathe, and you can see their flanks moving,” said Wan, who helps rehabilitate sick burros at DonkeyLand. “It is an aerosol virus. This time it affects young donkeys more, from newborns to 2-3 year olds.

Wan and DonkeyLand staff have set a goal of rounding up and vaccinating at least 20% of the region’s wild burros — about 250 to 300 — who are susceptible to the virus.

A equine herpes virus killed or sickened many domestic and show horses earlier this year. The outbreak has temporarily halted equestrian events in counties and cities across the state, including Norco in Riverside County.

Wan said the equine flu infecting burros is “species specific” – so it cannot be transmitted to humans or other animal species. Wan thinks this current cycle is “the same strain” as the equine flu seen in 2020.

“I don’t think he’s mutated or anything. It’s just, unfortunately, that we are dealing with naive animals. They don’t have any immunity and they’re just susceptible,” Wan said. “It’s like you’ve never been exposed to the flu, and then all of a sudden you’re exposed, and you’re probably going to get it…unfortunately, those we vaccinated in 2020 didn’t have probably not much of the whole immunity.

Cheatham said the virus is easily spread among herds, or sometimes by horses – or by burros drinking water that is not found naturally. Residents sometimes leave water outside for wild donkeys they think are dehydrated from the heat.

“People are throwing water away and it could be very dangerous if it’s not cleaned or filled with fresh water,” said Amber-LeVonne Cheatham, DonkeyLand’s founder. “There can be viruses that are transmitted and this can lead to deaths. I know people love and want to save burros, but it’s just dangerous.

Wild burros are not dehydrated, Amber-LeVonne Cheatham said. They can find natural spring water in the surrounding mountains and foothills, she said.

A arrangement in Riverside County prohibits anyone from feeding wild burros.

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