ONEIDA - More than two dozen buffaloes died on the Oneida Reservation. And now an investigation is underway to determine if it happened purposely.
"My heart tells me no one did this on purpose," said Oneida Farm area manager Michelle Doxtator.
Investigators say the animals died of dehydration. According to authorities, the herd's water supply was shut off sometime during the Labor Day weekend.
Officials say it happened at the Oneida Farm's west pasture. That's located in Outagamie County, on Cooper Road, off of Highway 54.
A photograph shows just one of 25 buffaloes that died earlier this week from dehydration.
"Over the weekend, the water was turned off to the buffalo pasture," said Doxtator.
On Tuesday, Oneida Farm staff were notified of the dead animals.
"A neighbor called the Oneida Police Department to report that there was a problem with the buffalo," Doxtator said.
The dead animals were removed. It was determined the herd had gone three days without water. But why?
"I can't imagine someone intentionally taking water away from an animal," Doxtator said.
Doxtator said a captive buffalo can last two to three days without something to drink.
She added the animals were last checked on Thursday before the Labor Day weekend.
"So nobody checked on them until the call was made Tuesday?" FOX 11 asked Doxtator.
"Yes," she replied. "Normally the buffalo do not need to be checked on. They have enough food where they are. They had just moved from one pasture to another. They had more than enough food and they should have had enough water."
Doxtator said usually the buffaloes are checked every other day or every third day. So why was the herd not checked for five days?
"I'm not sure why. That's still under investigation," Doxtator said.
Doxtator said the grass-fed herd is not only a tourist attraction, but also produces meat for sale. However, the animals' value stretches well beyond that.
"These are animals given to us by our creator, and they are our responsibility to take care of them, and we failed them this weekend," said Doxtator.
Oneida police are investigating to determine whether the water supply was shut off intentionally or accidentally.
"We've put out to the community if anyone has any information which may be helpful with our investigation, to please contact our department or submit a tip to our website," said Oneida Assistant Police Chief Eric Boulanger.
For now, a lock has been placed on the handle that controls the water supply in order to avoid future tragedies.
Doxtator said another buffalo's health is now failing, which means the total number of deaths could total 26. She added, the market value of the animals is between $50,000 and $60,000.
The tribe hasn't decided whether the animals will be replaced.
If you have any information about the case, you are asked to call Oneida police at (920) 869-2239.
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