GRAY MOUNTAIN, Ariz. – After a widespread drought and famine hit the area, nearly 200 wild mustangs died at a stock pond here last month.
Around 191 mustangs died around a small, dried-up pond amid cracked desert ground. Some were buried neck-deep and some were buried beneath others, according to the Navajo Rangers. And some had their ribs and hips protruding.
Others were skinless, and one mare appeared to have grappled with trying to give birth. Both the mare and the foal did not survive.
The foal was stuck in the pelvic canal, said one ranger, who did not want to be named.
This tragic incident exemplifies the problem the Navajo Nation faces in an overpopulation of feral horses, said Navajo President Russell Begaye, who along with Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez traveled to Tuba City on May 2 to address the situation.
“There is a process for round-ups and it begins with the local chapter,” Begaye said in a statement. “What they need is a resolution requesting a round-up which prompts the assistance of the (Navajo Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs), but they have to ask for it.”
A regular chapter meeting will take place on Wednesday in Cameron. Two resolutions regarding the wild horses will be discussed, said Cameron Chapter President Milton Tso.
“What happened was that the earth dam got muddy and horses and cows got stuck in the mud and they died,” Tso explained. “They couldn’t get out. But most of them were probably almost (near) death because there was no water. It’s just a bad year. There’s no water.”
But a foal was found on May 1 when tribal officials surveyed the area. It was moving next to what was assumed to be its mother. The foul was taken to Dr. Erin Hisrich’s veterinarian clinic in Flagstaff.
Hisrich named the foal Grace. The three-week old foal was starving and had kidney failure due to severe dehydration. The Coconino Humane Association reported on Monday (May 24) that Grace was released from Hisrich’s care and is now completing her recovery at the shelter.
The scene was very emotional, said rancher Charlie Smith Jr. whose family’s ranch is located about five miles from the stock pond, which on May 4 and 5 was covered with hydrated lime and then covered with soil mounded up to allow for settling as the carcasses decompose. “I was upset.”
Smith in early April climbed the small berm overlooking the pond and saw two dead horses in the water.
“That’s when the water level was high,” said Smith, who is a former Navajo Police officer, “but it was starting to drop further down, and you could see plants sticking up from under the water.”
Because Smith works in Winslow during a five-day workweek, he returned to the area a week later and found 27 more dead horses and noticed the water had abated.
“There was just a little (water) in the middle and the outside was muddy,” he said. “There were 29 on the outside and I saw one (live) cow.”
Smith says his family’s herd of cows had also got into the pond too but herded them home before anything happened.
“It was very emotional,” Smith said. “I was very devastated by the scene.”
Arizona is in a 50-year drought, according to the lastest map from the U.S. Drought Monitor that shows an expanding area of extreme drought. And things are not looking much wetter.
Nearly 10 percent of the state, mostly in the northeast, is experiencing exceptional drought and there are no signs it is going to ease up, which could lead to a bigger problem for the state.
“It’s very dry,” Tso added. “It’s something that people need to prepare for and summer’s not even here yet. It’s still spring and it’s getting warmer. There’s really no prediction of rain coming in.”