A Central California rancher is being investigated for possible animal neglect after two hikers came across 25 dead sheep that appeared emaciated and malnourished.
“What I saw still haunts me,” one of the hikers, Adam Weismuller, told the Tribune. “It was the single most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”
The sheep were discovered Feb. 28 in the River View Estates area of Heritage Ranch, about 15 miles northwest of Paso Robles, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.
The hikers have identified themselves through news outlets and personal videos they have published as Adam and Jennifer Weismuller. The couple say they live in the Heritage Ranch area.
In an interview with the Tribune, Adam Weismuller said he first discovered the sheep in a creek, then discovered several more scattered throughout the hillside.
He said he called over his wife, who later recorded the gruesome discovery, and notified law enforcement officials. The couple published several of the graphic videos on YouTube this past weekend.
“You could see every rib and the stomachs were concave and you could see their spine,” Weismuller's wife, Jennifer, wrote in a video description posted Sunday, adding that some were "foaming at the mouth."
The couple also recorded several men loading a trailer with the sheep, mixing the live ones with the dead.
They were part of an 8,000-sheep flock, 700 of which were grazing on about 3,000 acres of Heritage Ranch land as part of a fire suppression program, authorities said.
According to the sheriff's department, the owner -- who was not identified -- indicated that he always shears his sheep in February. The owner told deputies that several days later, a major rainstorm hit the county, "and as a result, several of the sheep became ill and 25 died,” the department said.
Sheriff's detectives planned to turn their case over to the district attorney’s office for possible criminal charges.