Flagstaff, Ariz. • Dozens of horses have died on tribal land in northern Arizona, apparently after getting trapped in a muddy stock pond as drought grips the region.
Navajo Nation spokesman Mihio Manus said Wednesday that 111 horses died in the pond near Cameron over the past week. Officials are trying to determine how best to deal with the carcasses that could attract scavenging birds, dogs and other wildlife, he said.
The stock pond typically is a good spot for thirsty animals, being one of the last in the region to dry up. But drought conditions left it without much water from runoff or rain this year, tribal officials said.
“It’s been happening for a few years,” said Cameron Chapter President Milton Tso. “Usually one or two or three horses would get stuck and die down there, but this year we didn’t get any snow. We hardly get rain down here.”
Photos showed clusters of horses with dried mud on their bodies, some overlapping one another. The pond had a small ribbon of water in its center, surrounded by cracked earth.
Northeastern Arizona is in the worst stages of drought, with a red swatch of exceptional drought painting over the area that would supply water to Cameron. National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Suk didn’t have precipitation data for Cameron but said a community upstream on the Little Colorado River is the driest on record since Oct. 1, down three inches from normal.
Rain and snow fell in parts of northern Arizona on Wednesday, but Suk said it’s too little, too late.
“It helps out briefly but by this Friday we’re going to be warming back up,” he said.
The tribe has struggled over the years with how to manage large populations of feral horses. Individual Navajo communities can request roundups, but public outcry has halted such efforts in the past.
Manus said foul play is not suspected in the horses’ deaths, and it’s unclear if any of the horses were branded.
Tribal and federal officials at the site Wednesday were working to put a fence around the stock pond to keep other livestock away, Tso said. They talked about burying the horses at the pond and redirecting any water to create a safer pond for animals, he said.
“The concern is disease, for the people that live around that area,” he said. “And the smell is awful.”
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye issued a drought declaration about two months ago as concern grew over wells, windmills and earthen dams across the reservation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
Tso said he’s been encouraging residents to downsize their livestock. He suspects more have died of thirst.
“I hope that people that own horses, cattle and sheep will realize this drought is coming, and they have to prepare for it,” he said.