Editor's note: This updates the story with additional details on the size of the pasture, how many horses and mules were there total, who was responsible for checking on them.
Seven mules and two horses owned by the National Park Service for use in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks recently were discovered dead in their winter pasture, possibly due to the failure of a "remote watering system."
The stock were in a 300-acre pasture at the Pixely National Wildlife Refuge about 35 miles south of Tulare and 45 miles north of Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley. The dead animals were discovered Monday, June 4, said Sequoia spokeswoman Dana Dierkes on Friday afternoon.
"Our staff is just heartbroken about what happened," she said. While the watering system did fail, Ms. Dierkes said officials weren't sure that the animals died from lack of water.
"It's still under investigation. We do know the water system failed," the park spokeswoman said. "We don't know if other factors were involved."
There were 17 horses and mules wintering in the pasture, she said. The remaining nine had been seen by a vet, and some continued to be under observation, but they all were expected to survive, the spokeswoman said.
While the Park Service was responsible for monitoring the stock through the winter, Ms. Dierkes did not know how often someone was supposed to check on the animals.
Sequoia/Kings Canyon Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich called the incident "a tragic loss for us. These animals were part of our team and a vital part of park operations. We are heartbroken about what happened and will be investigating this incident thoroughly.”