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Dozens of dead mammals, birds dumped outside Duluth

Minnesota Conservation Officer Jake Willis is investigating the unusual deaths of more than 40 mammals and birds dumped along Minnesota Highway 23 just outside Duluth earlier this month. It's unclear how the animals were killed. Photo courtesy Minnesota DNR

DULUTH -- Minnesota Conservation Officer Jake Willis figured he would find a leftover deer carcass or two when he responded earlier this month to a report of dead animals dumped along Minnesota Highway 23 just outside the Duluth city limits.

But what he found surprised him — a menagerie of dead birds and mammals, 41 in all, perfectly preserved with no signs of trauma. The animals had been killed and dumped into a ravine, fully intact.

“It’s like they had been in a display case before they were dumped. There wasn't even any blood on a white sea gull,’’ Willis told the News Tribune. “It’s just weird. We don’t know yet who killed these animals or why.”

There were no tire tracks or footprints in the snow to go on. The animals, reported by a Minnesota Department of Transportation snow plow driver, were frozen but only a couple small songbirds had been gnawed on by predators. Willis thinks they were dumped shortly before he was called to the scene on Jan. 15.

The list of animals is an odd mix: 15 rabbits; six pigeons; three squirrels; three blue jays; two ring-necked gulls; two black-capped chickadees; a turkey vulture; a raven; a crow; a hen mallard; a domestic farm goose; a ruffed grouse; a dove; a hairy woodpecker; a mouse; and other songbirds, some of which were not identifiable.

Willis called in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which will investigate the deaths of federally protected animals such as the waterfowl, raven, vulture and songbirds. But because of the federal government shutdown, Willis has been mostly on his own.

“I was hoping to use their (federal) lab to find out what killed them, but that’s not happening with the shutdown. We have some other options, some other labs we can use, but it’s going to take a while,’’ Willis said.

Willis has a hunch on how the animals might have been killed, but he’s not going to say until he has more evidence. He’s asking for the public’s help to solve the crime. The animals were dumped in what is officially the Fond du Lac State Forest, across Minnesota Highway 23 from Jay Cooke State Park, just into Carlton County, south of Duluth.

Willis is asking anyone who might have information on the case to call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources toll-free Turn-In Poachers Hotline at (800) 652-9093. You can remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a reward.