By SCOTT SONNER

Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Holes in the carcass of a young foal found near a wild horse roundup in northeast California and Nevada were the work of scavenger birds not gunshot wounds as horse protection advocates first claimed, federal officials said Tuesday.

A veterinarian with the U.S. Agriculture Department's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service examined the foal on Saturday, two days after horse advocates opposed to the roundup found the animal and complained to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The vet was unable to determine a cause of death because the foal had been dead for about a month and the carcass was already in the advanced stages of decomposition, BLM spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian said.

But "the bony skeletal remains of the four- to six-week old colt showed no detectable physical trauma," Bedrosian said in a statement on Monday. "There were random holes of various sizes that were evidence of feeding by scavenger birds, according to the veterinarian."

In addition, a BLM special agent examined the area and found no physical evidence around the carcass to indicate it was shot or killed at that location, Bedrosian said.

In addition, a BLM special agent examined the area and found no physical evidence around the carcass to indicate it was shot or killed at that location, Bedrosian said.

Craig Downer, a wildlife ecologist doing work with the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation, was with the group that found the foal last week. He said it was within a few miles of a corral where a BLM contractor with helicopters gathered hundreds of mustangs last week along the California-Nevada border.

Downer said BLM officers in the field initially dismissed the report, at one point telling one ecologist the carcass was that of an antelope, not a horse.

But he said BLM officials from the district office subsequently showed genuine interest in the case. He said they requested -- and he provided -- copies of photographs he took at the scene and BLM officials confirmed late Thursday they were investigating.

Downer, who has done numerous studies at the roundup site, said on Tuesday that he had not heard from BLM about the examination results. He said he thought that the USDA and BLM would have the expertise to determine the source of the wounds but that he remained suspect of the conclusion.

"What gets me is the near-perfect roundness of the hole going in," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He said he wants to see details of BLM's findings.

"I've seen how the high-powered rifle perforates and leaves the round hole going in and going out the other side ... Based on that fact alone, I would be a bit suspect of the conclusion."

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