DALLAS – A rare white buffalo found dead in Texas died from a bacterial infection and wasn't killed and mutilated, as its owner suspected, authorities said Tuesday.
Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said a veterinarian made the determination and that photographs indicate the calf wasn't skinned. He said the investigation is closed unless new evidence surfaces.
The calf, named Lightning Medicine Cloud, died in May on the Lakota Ranch near Greenville, about 50 miles northeast of Dallas.
Ranch owner Arby Little Soldier reported finding the calf skinned and believed it had been killed as part of a hate crime. He didn't return a message seeking comment Tuesday. Meeks said Little Soldier had not been notified about the results of the investigation as of Tuesday afternoon.
As a non-albino white buffalo, the calf was revered by Native Americans. According to Lakota Sioux lore, the goddess of peace once appeared in the form of a white buffalo calf. The buffalo's death sparked international attention, Little Soldier has said, and one Oregon organization planned to donate a white buffalo bull from its herd.
Meeks said the sheriff's office was not notified of Lightning Medicine Cloud's death until six days after the animal died. It had been buried for three days because Little Soldier "wanted to talk to his elders before he contacted us," Meeks said.
Meeks said the investigation revealed two more buffalo have died at the Lakota Ranch since May. He said investigators believe blackleg, a bacterial infection, was responsible for all of the deaths.
"It lays dormant in the land," Meeks said of the spores that cause the infection. "It's very preventable by vaccination. We were not told by the Little Soldiers that these two had died."
Terry Hensley, a Texas A&M extension office veterinarian, said a blackleg vaccine is available for cattle but has not been approved for buffalo. Some experts say the cattle vaccine has been effective in buffalo, Hensley said.
Animals eat the spores, or the spores enter the body through a wound. The spores, a small number of which are usually found in an animal's digestive tract, can lay dormant inside the animal's muscles, and break out months or years later. The bacteria become activated by quick growth or muscle exertion.
"Normally they're healthy one day and the rancher finds them dead the next," Hensley said.
Lightning Medicine Cloud's mother Buffalo Woman was found dead a day after the white buffalo's death. Little Soldier has said he believes she was poisoned. Meeks said he could not comment on the mother's death.
Little Soldier had offered a $45,000 reward for information about the animal's death.
Meeks said no charges will be filed against Little Soldier.