33 Horses Shot Dead In Nevada

They were shot at close range with a high-powered rifle. Thirty-three wild horses slaughtered over the weekend - each shot numerous times by killers unknown...apparently shot for target practice. CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

Members of a local animal rescue group were some of the first at the scene. They made a video, which was obtained exclusively by CBS News.

"We only saw two horses at first," said Bobbi Royle, of the horse adoption group Wild Horse Spirit. "Then, oh my God, we saw another one. And then a fourth and a fifth. It was horrible."

By Wednesday, the death toll had grown to 33, the biggest single shooting of wild horses in Nevada since as many as 600 were killed during a two-year period in the mid 1980's.

"All of the horses appeared to have been shot multiple times before dying," Washoe County Sheriff's Sgt. Bob Towery said Wednesday after a helicopter search discovered the two latest bodies.

A $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers who apparently used the horses for target practice several miles east of Reno.

"This kind of stuff is just sick and absolutely senseless," said Paul Iverson, administrator of the Nevada Division of Agriculture. "Some of them were shot and left to suffer for a long period of time."

Several young colts and pregnant mares were among the victims, including "one little filly still alive, probably just 8 or 9 months old," Royle said.

"She was shot in the back and paralyzed," Royle said. "She could only move her front a little, her head. She had to be put down."

Twenty-five of the horses were found in and around a valley known as Devil's Flat on Sunday and Monday. Six additional horses were discovered Tuesday.

"I think it's absolutely tragic that somebody would come up and do this. These animals, you know, they're fine here. They're not bothering anybody," says one official.

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Some of the horses were maimed and at least one was tortured with sprays to the head from a fire extinguisher after being shot, Towery said Tuesday.

"There's no rationale for it," Towery said.

The horses were not technically considered wild horses as defined by the Federal Wild Horse and Burro Act because they did not descend from horses living on public land at the time the act was passed in 1969.

Investigators do not believe the killings are related to long-standing tensions between ranchers and managers of wild horses over limited desert food, said John Tyson, a Storey County range management officer.

State officials used a metadetector Tuesday to locate and remove bullets from the carcasses to be sent to a forensics lab.

"There's just total outrage. People are so upset," said Lydia Hammack, president of Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association. "These animals are magnificent animals and I really can't understand how somebody can do this. It's a real sicko out there."