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Published July 03, 2015, 01:13 PM

Officials identify 'persons of interest' in Nevada cattle killings

Nevada authorities investigating a wave of cattle shootings that have killed at least 20 cows grazing on public lands in the high desert near the Idaho border said on Thursday they have identified "persons of interest" in the case.

By: Laura Zuckerman, Reuters

Nevada authorities investigating a wave of cattle shootings that have killed at least 20 cows grazing on public lands in the high desert near the Idaho border said on Thursday they have identified "persons of interest" in the case.

No arrests have yet been made in cow killings that began last year and that led organizations tied to ranchers to offer a reward of more than $30,000 for the arrest and conviction of the shooter or shooters.

The killings, rare for their number and for the use of firearms ranging from shotguns to high-powered rifles, may be linked to incidents in recent years in the same region in which cows and calves were shot but not killed outright, authorities said.

In Nevada, where ranching historically helped open the state to settlement and where cattle operations today lead an agricultural sector that generates more than $3 billion annually, killing cows is considered a serious crime that was once punishable by hanging.

"It raises the hackles on the back of your neck," said Ron Terell, president of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association.

For the first time since the carcasses of cows shot dead were found on northern Nevada grazing allotments, authorities have identified "persons of interest" thanks to tips from the public, said Flint Wright, animal industry administrator with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Wright said investigators have not publicly named suspects in a case that involves such felonies as animal abuse and destruction of private property at a time when beef prices have reached record highs.

The probe has been complicated partly because there is no forensic method for linking loads back to a particular shotgun and also because the sprawling rangelands contain more cows, sagebrush and pines than people.

Because outdoor enthusiasts like hunters are known to frequent the region, it would not typically excite suspicion to see an armed person on the landscape, Wright said.

Some of the animals shot died instantly, others died of wounds that became infected and some had to be sent to slaughter because of the severity of their injuries, Wright said.

"We're taking the matter very seriously," he added. "We have had cases of malicious intent in the past and it is not uncommon to have a few cows shot every year. What's odd about this is that it's a cluster: a considerable amount of cows in a short amount of time."

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