SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian prosecutors have launched an investigation into the owner of a herd of around 100 horses after they were found starving to death or already dead on a snow-bound mountainside.
Images of the dead or severely weakened horses on Mount Osogovo near the border with Macedonia in western Bulgaria have shocked the Bulgarian public and animal rights groups, and many have called for swift punishment of the owner.
Around 70 horses have died so far and those that are still alive remain in a serious condition, Rumyana Arnaudova, spokeswoman for the chief prosecutor, said on Tuesday.
“We have information that the person who committed the crime had an obligation to take care of the animals ... The owner of the horses had received quite substantial sums in grants from the European Union for horse breeding,” she said.
Environmentalists discovered the horses on Sunday on the mountainside, about 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above sea level, and immediately informed police and the emergency services, but deep snow hampered the rescue operation.
“They are in a terrible state,” said Elitsa Dimitrova, one of the activists who found the animals. “The horses are in great danger because of the deep snow and low temperatures and because of the wolves. They still lack water, food and shelter.
“They literally stand in the snow and have no way to move. They are starving, they have not eaten for a long time. And they are helpless - when their strength gives up, they just fall into the snow.”
Arnaudova said the punishment for such cruelty to animals is currently up to three years in jail and a fine of up to 5,000 levs ($3,170).
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones