By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
It’s been nearly a month since Sparkles went missing, but the 8-year-old Wyoming girl who bottle-raised the 3-year-old, 1,500-pound Black Angus bull hasn’t given up hope of finding her best friend.
“We’re actively trying to find him, to follow where he might have gone, but nothing yet,” said Lucia Villarreal, grandmother of Kali Villarreal, a Medicine Bow Elementary School third grader who loves raising farm animals.
“We still haven’t found him, but Kali’s holing out as much hope as she can,” Lucia said. “She’s very active looking every day with her Pa-Pa (grandfather José Villarreal).”
An Unpleasant Reality
Since Sparkles failed to come in from grazing on public land with the rest of the Villarreals’ small cattle herd early last month, Kali has run the gamut of emotions, her grandmother told Cowboy State Daily.
She’s been distraught, sad, frightened and determined – and unwilling to give up the search for Sparkles.
But as more time passes without a sign of the large, gently and friendly-to-humans bovine, Lucia said she and her husband have been trying to prepare little Kali for the reality that she may never see Sparkles again.
“That’s kind of where we’re at right now,” she said. “I just told her we’ll hold as much hope as we can, but he might’ve walked away too far.”
She also said the disappearance of Sparkles has been a painful life lesson for her granddaughter.
“She knows she has to be more careful in keeping animals in their pens, but they also like to be in open range,” Lucia said.
That means that while allowing animals to roam as they like may seem the kind thing to do, sometimes that may not be the best for their welfare.
It’s a lesson Kali can take to heart as she continues raising other animals on the family’s Albany County property.
Can A 1,500-Pound Bull Just Disappear?
In the meantime, just what happened to Sparkles remains unknown, with the family left to speculate and consider various scenarios.
One is the bull just wandered too far and became lost or mingled in with another herd, or he may have found his way into another pasture and just hasn’t been discovered yet.
“The bull could end up in somebody else’s pasture and, until they’re working their animals, they may not even know he’s there,” said Jim Magagna, a Cowboy State rancher and executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
Another typical reason cattle come up missing is predation, he said.
“It’s probably more likely predators were to blame,” Magagna said, adding he’s just speculating on various scenarios.
Another is that Sparkles was stolen.
Aside from the most logical explanations, there are many other reasons cattle may come up missing from time to time, Magagna said.
“Could it have been rustled? It’s possible, but that’s certainly not widespread or anything,” he said. “But there are a few incidents of (cattle rustling) a year.”
Modern-Day Cattle Rustlers
While he has no knowledge of whether Sparkles was stolen, Magagna said cattle rustling still happens in Wyoming, albeit not in the way most think of the practice as depicted in film and Western lore.
“The biggest thing for rustling today is it tends to not be the neighbors,” he said.
Cattle-rustling dirtbags today are more sophisticated, Magagna said. They often use metal gates to funnel cattle into trailers, then haul them out of state.
“With these gooseneck livestock trailers they have, and a couple of good dogs, they could set up a couple panels and herd them in with the dogs and be gone out of state before anyone knows it,” he said.
Will Keep Looking
Although hope that Sparkles will turn up again is waning, Lucia said Kali is determined to keep looking and asks her grandfather daily to take her out searching for the bull that used to follow her around like a puppy.
The family also has had a few tips as others have kept a lookout for the bull.
“One guy thought he seen him over by Rock River, so at least people are looking,” Lucia said.
Anyone who may have seen Sparkles in the Medicine Bow area near the border between Albany and Carbon counties can call the Villarreals at 307-703-0229.