A mass wild horse death at the base of a dry waterhole in Central Australia has been blamed on an extreme heatwave in the region.
Around two dozen brumbies in various stages of decomposition have been discovered strewn along a 100-metre stretch of a swimming spot called Deep Hole, 20 kilometres from the remote community of Santa Teresa.
The region has hit a record 12-day run of temperatures above 42 degrees, and it is poised to hit 13 days in Alice Springs on Wednesday.
Arrernte artist and activity engagement officer Ralph Turner stumbled upon the grim scene last week after he travelled to the location to assess how the heatwave had affected the pool’s water levels.
He said it was the first time he had ever seen anything like it.
“We we found all these poor horses, all perished,” Mr Turner said.
“We’ve been having hot weather, day after day.
“I just couldn’t believe something like that happened out here, first time it happened like that.”
Horses may have died of dehydration and heat
The Red Centre has been scorching under an unprecedented heatwave for much of the summer.
In Alice Springs, about 80 kilometres from Santa Teresa, the town’s airport on Tuesday eclipsed the longest stretch of days above 42 degrees since the weather station opened in 1940.
Santa Teresa media mentor Rohan Smyth said the temperatures in the community were usually about five degrees hotter than in the Alice township.
“The wild horses have gone down there looking for their water, which is normally there, and it’s not been there, so essentially they’ve just had nowhere to go,” Mr Smyth said.
“Unfortunately they’ve just perished from the dehydration and the heat, so it’s pretty shocking stuff.”
Oh my god. About 2 hours out of #AliceSprings in Santa Teresa mass deaths of wild horses. The horses are believed to have entered Deep Hole to drink from the reservoir which has never before been known to completely dry up. #heatwave #climate Source: https://t.co/YpyBEjIfwm pic.twitter.com/L4zyqwwTTB
— Sophie Trevitt (@SophieTrevitt) January 23, 2019
Feral horse deaths hit community
Residents of Santa Teresa have a long, rich connection with horses, from their race meets to the region’s stockman history.
Mr Smyth said many people in the community were now “deeply concerned about the welfare of the local wild horse population”.
“There’s a lot of horses here in town, and a lot of them are used for school projects and stuff, and they sort of live around the town centre, and a few of them are broken in,” Mr Smyth said.
“But the really wild horses, they don’t come into town at all so they can’t get any of that water that is in town.
“They are feral animals, so essentially they do have an impact on the environment, and they do use up the resources that other animals might use.
“But it’s still pretty horrible to know that they’ve had to suffer in that extreme way.”
The Red Centre heatwave has affected animals across the region. Mr Turner said he heard about a mass death of camels near the border community of Docker River.
Earlier in January, the NT Primary Industries Department released a statement warning pet owners to be mindful of the risk of heat stroke in dogs.