State wildlife officials are asking for the public's help in solving the killing of 89 bats in an abandoned mine in the Superstition Mountains near Gold Canyon.
The Mexican free-tail bats were shot and left to die in the mine sometime between April 1 and April 10 near the popular Peralta trailhead in Pinal County.
"This is a blatant example of disrespect for wildlife, and the laws that are established to protect the state's wildlife," Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Manager Dana McGehee said in a statement.
Anyone with information should call Operation Game Thief at (800) 352-0700. Callers may be eligible for a reward of up to $2,500 in this case. All calls may remain confidential upon request, the department said.
The closed and abandoned mine is located roughly within a mile of the Peralta trailhead, but authorities declined to pinpoint the exact location for public safety reasons.
The shooter or shooters could face a number of charges, including the killing of protected wildlife and the harassment of wildlife, said Randy Babb, a Game and Fish spokesman.
Bats are not subject to hunting in Arizona, he said.
The Mexican free-tail species is one of 28 species of bats in Arizona. Wildlife officials credit the flying mammals with keeping insects in check and pollinating cactuses and agaves.
Mexican free-tail bats are found throughout Arizona in the summer; most migrate south in the winter. For more about bats, visit www.azgfd.gov/bats.