Fugitive Ahwatukee cow has the law on her side
Arizona Republic — Aug. 6, 2010 — Page 1
The hired hand thought there was something unusual about the muscular heifer he helped haul from a cattle auction to a farm in southwest Phoenix.
Poziljon Atakulov, a refugee from Uzbekistan, said he has plenty of experience with cattle, both in Phoenix and in his home country, and wondered why this one would not calm down.
"It was wild, very wild," he said recently, as he showed a reporter around the 2-acre property where he helps owner Marufjon Ahmedov tend six head of more placid cattle and about three dozen goats.
Atakulov said that after the heifer was released into a corral in June, it struggled with ranch hands, broke down a fence and ran off toward the South Mountain preserve.
It has been running ever since, becoming the talk of bemused Ahwatukee Foothills residents and a source of irritation for their Phoenix City Council representative.
"It just jumped over the fence," Atakulov said, gesturing toward South Mountain. "I don't know how it is surviving out there."
Apparently, the young female cow is surviving pretty well.
Since late June, the shiny black bovine with large horns has been spotted munching grass and sipping from fountains in Ahwatukee Foothills, lounging under trees in South Mountain Park and drinking from a stream near a small south Phoenix resort.
And, as the heifer slips in and out of Ahwatukee Foothills to nibble lawns, it also is eluding capture by slipping between the lines of state and city authority.
Even if she tramples anyone's prized bushes or hits a motor vehicle, the law is on her side.
Arizona's Open Range Law, crafted to protect the state's cattle industry, makes it illegal for anyone to simply go out and capture or otherwise harm a cow.
Only the owner of livestock or state experts have the authority to capture this heifer or any other head of wandering cattle, said Laura Oxley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
The Old West
Cattle experts, including Patrick Bray, vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, identify the heifer as a Corriente, an agile breed commonly used in rodeo roping competitions and a source of lean beef. The breed's roots date to the 1400s, when the Spanish brought hearty, low-maintenance cattle to what is now the American Southwest.
No one tracks how many Corrientes are kept in the Valley, but rancher Mike Evans of Desert Ridge said they aren't common.
He keeps Corrientes in Wittmann, where they have room to roam and graze, and said there is a growing market for free-range Corriente beef.
Not all Corrientes act wild, Bray said, but all are "very suitable for the desert." A little bit of food and water can sustain them while they travel long distances, experts said.
"(The cow is) definitely resourceful," Oxley said. "If the choice is to stay free or live in a pen, she may choose to stay free."
Talk of the foothills
Ahwatukee Foothills residents have been chuckling over coffee and at the gym at stories about the cagy cow. Even Atakulov joked that "she is very, very fit."
Stray livestock in the mountain preserve is rare, said Kathryn Reichert, Phoenix deputy parks director.
She said her department has no plans to round up the cow. The policy is to leave animals alone unless they are destructive.
"We've had wild burros before in north Phoenix and near Ahwatukee," said Reichert, who heads the parks natural-resources division. "We didn't try to capture them."
Phoenix police say they don't handle stray livestock, either. They report loose horses and cows to the Arizona Department of Agriculture, which in turn tries to find the owners.
"We could put a rope on it, but then what would we do? We don't have any place to take it," said Phoenix police Sgt. Bryant Rockwood, who has spotted the animal several times on Ahwatukee Foothills streets and out in the desert.
This is the southwest Phoenix property from which a large, black heifer escaped in June and ran off toward the South Mountain preserve.
It might seem like the most practical solution would be for law enforcement to sedate the heifer with a dart gun and then call the owner.
"But that would be against the law," Bray said, noting state law puts cattle safety before almost anything else. Even chasing the heifer in summer heat could put it in danger, he said.
Of the 700 or so calls the Agriculture Department's lost-livestock hotline receives annually, only about 25 typically come from the Valley, Oxley said.
State law also holds drivers liable if their vehicles hit wandering cattle — even within the city limits. It also imposes penalties on owners of dogs that bark at and harass strays. Rockwood said the heifer appears to be in no danger from the elements — or much of anything else — in its new lifestyle.
Most recently, he saw it drinking from a stream near Desert Arroyo Phoenix, a vacation time-share club near 46th Street and Baseline Road. Edwin Huizing, Desert Arroyo general manager, said his staff also has seen the heifer grazing near the property's entrance.
Rockwood, Ahwatukee Foothills' weekend patrol supervisor, said that he has repeatedly tried to get through to the state Agriculture Department's stray-livestock hotline but that his messages have gone to voice mail.
The line is not staffed on weekends, Oxley said. "There are no plans now for the state to go capture the missing heifer," she added.
A tough challenge
All this exasperates Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose home is a short distance from one spot where the heifer was seen, at Warpaint Drive and 32nd Street.
Cattle may have legal rights, but this is Phoenix, he pointed out.
"I know we are Arizona, but no, no, no," he said. "(The heifer) weighs a thousand pounds, and it's potentially dangerous."
The cow probably could not have selected a rougher area for a roundup.
The rugged 16,000-acre South Mountain Park is considered the largest municipal park in the country. It has 51 hiking trials and 300 varieties of plants, including plenty of desert trees to hide a runaway cow.
Oxley said her agency has issued a written warning to Ahmedov, whose land is at Dobbins Road and 29th Avenue, and told him to hire a professional cowboy to capture the cow. The cowboy so far has been unsuccessful, she said.
Ahmedov speaks little English and did not respond to a request for an interview with The Republic. But Atakulov said he is fairly certain what his friend will do if he gets the heifer back.
"I think he will sell it right away," Atakulov said.
Ahwatukee's wandering bovine is ID'd as a cow
The Arizona Republic, June 30, 2010
Marufjon Ahmedov is founder and president of Intersanoat USA, Hand-made Shoes and Sandals, All Natural Leather.