The animals lie in neat circles around the pond that was supposed to sustain them as spring temperature rose and water became harder to find.
Instead, they collapsed in the mud, exhausted and weakened from drought.
Almost 200 feral horses have been found dead around a pond in Navajo land in northern Arizona, according to tribal leaders, the victims of overpopulation and dwindling water resources.
Jonathan Nez, vice president of Navajo Nation, said the deaths were an annual problem that had been getting worse.
“These horses weren’t shot or maliciously killed by an individual,” he said. “These animals were searching for water to stay alive.
“In the process, they, unfortunately burrowed themselves into the mud and couldn’t escape because they were so weak.”
Photographs show the carcases of dozens of horses were they had fallen around the stock pond in Gray Mountain.
Tribal officials say they are struggling to cope with a feral population that has grown to as many as 70,000 feral horses on the Navajo Nation.
Animals were once accustomed to finding water at the stock pond, but locals say it has dried up more quickly in recent years.
This time around a particularly dry winter has made conditions even worse. In California it made for a season of extreme wildfires while New Mexico and Arizona are still struggling with intense water shortages.
“This tragic incident exemplifies the problem the Navajo Nation faces in an overpopulation of feral horses,” said President Russell Begaye.
Federal and tribal officials have begun the gruesome business of disposing of their remains, spreading hydrated lime over the animals before burying them.
In all, they counted 191 carcases.
“The horses are anywhere from thigh to neck deep in the mud. Some are even buried beneath others,” said Nina Chester, of the office of the president. “This is our most humane and safest option.”
The plan is to cover over the pond completely, redirecting its meagre water flows elsewhere.
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