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Mystery illness running rampant through Inland Empire donkeys

Come to Reche Canyon and you’re likely to cross paths with a wild burro, hundreds of which roam parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

But recently, many have started showing troubling symptoms, including “bubbling mouth, bubbling noses and some respiratory illness,” said Chad Cheatam, vice president of Donkeyland, a nonprofit that offers sanctuary to the burros.

Cheatam added that the calls have come in from various locations.

“Some were in really bad shape, laying down and wouldn’t get up, and some were experiencing symptoms, the runny noses,” Cheatam said.

So far, 17 donkeys have died, Donkeyland said, raising the specter of what happened two years ago, when hundreds of animals died of equine influenza.

“Unfortunately, there was a little baby that we had picked up and transported to the hospital and upon them handing him over to vet, he died in the veterinarian’s arms,” Cheatam said.

Dr. Paul Wan, SoCal Equine Hospital veterinary surgeon, said a virus that spreads due to the “congregation of the herd” is a possible culprit — at least one of the deceased donkeys has tested positive for equine influenza — but he believes there could be more to it.

“They suspect that it is a virus component with a secondary bacterial,” Wan said.

For now, only one thing is certain: The more these animals are pushed close together, the more likely they are to be exposed.

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