American Wild Horse Company

More than a dozen wild horses have been found shot to death in an Arizona national park, investigators say.

They belonged to a historically significant, “cherished” herd in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near the town of Alpine, according to a human rights group that stumbled upon the bloody scene during a routine inspection on Oct. 6.

Since the initial discovery last week, the group reported to the Arizona Republic Confirmed death of 15 horsesand about 20 more are missing from the herd.

At least four survived the gunshot wounds and “suffering in the Apatsky Forest” – says the press release of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

The nonprofit group, along with the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group in Arizona, pledged $25,000 to find and prosecute those responsible for the killings, the Arizona Republic reported.

The killings have intensified calls for more comprehensive federal and state protection of the nation’s wild horse herds.

“This hateful massacre is unfathomable and the killer or killers must be brought to justice,” Simone Nederland said in a press release. She is president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which the group says “leads efforts to protect the alpine herd.”

“The alpine wild horses that live along the historic Coronado Trail are beloved by Arizonans and the American public,” she said in a release. “This historic herd is in desperate need of stronger protection from harm and further attacks.”

Wild horse nonprofits are pushing for “a bill that would put this herd under Arizona protection,” just like the wild horses of the Salt River.

The management plan for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest proposes reducing the herd’s size from about 420 to fewer than 104, according to the Arizona Republic.

The Wild Horses and Donkeys Act of 1971 guarantees that “free-roaming wild horses and donkeys” will be protected from “capture, branding, persecution, or death” and declares them “an integral part of the natural system of public lands,” but The Alpine Herd is not protected by law, reports the Arizona Republic.

The group is also asking for an “increased law enforcement presence” in the Apache Forest area “to prevent additional deaths,” the release said.

In January, three wild horses were killed on the Black Mesa Ranger District in eastern Arizona, according to the Arizona Republic. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has announced a $10,000 reward for information about the fatality.

And in 2020, in the second week of January, 15 shot horses were found there, the publication reports.

The US-based Wild Horse Campaign shared naturalistic photos showing dead horses with gunshot wounds to their lungs, stomachs and faces. The group said they also witnessed orphaned yearling horses “being kept alone without their families,” according to a news release.

“This tragedy underscores the need for adequate and enhanced protection of this historic herd of wild horses,” said American Wild Horse Campaign Executive Director Suzanne Roy.

Alpine is about 250 miles northeast of Phoenix, near the New Mexico border.

Brooke (she/they) is a real-time reporter for McClatchy covering LGBTQ+ and Western news. They studied journalism at the University of Florida and previously covered LGBTQ+ news for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. When they are not writing stories, they enjoy spending time with their cats, horseback riding, or spending time outdoors.