When Ralph Turner arrived at his usual swimming spot, Deep Hole, about 12 miles from the remote Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) community in Australia’s Northern Territory, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
The 330-foot waterhole was dried up and the bodies of dozens of wild horses were strewn along its bed.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen anything like it. I didn’t stop to count but there were lots and lots of them. It was devastating,” Turner told CNN. “I just can’t stop thinking of how they died, desperate for water in this heat wave. The horses used to be good and strong a couple of years ago.”
Rohan Smyth, a media spokesperson for the local Aboriginal community, said the thirsty animals went looking for the water and, having found none, had nowhere to go.
“People in the local community take care of the feral horses. They are very concerned about the local wild animals’ welfare,” he told CNN.
The Central Land Council (CLC), a body that advocates for Aboriginal people in Central Australia, said in a statement Thursday that it had to euthanize more than 50 more horses near the waterhole because they were close to death.
“Horses and other feral animals are dying of thirst and hunger because many reliable water sources, such as Apwerte Uyerreme, have dried up in the current heatwave and areas overpopulated by feral animals suffer erosion and vegetation loss,” the council said in the statement.
The CLC said it was planning to euthanize a further 120 camels, horses and donkeys dying from thirst in another remote community.
Since some residents are opposed to the cull, the council said, it is holding a community meeting with animal welfare officers to address the issue.
“Before a cull it is important to get the informed consent of the traditional owners of the Aboriginal land trusts we support,” CLC director David Ross said.
“However in emergencies, such as last week in Ltyentye Apurte, we will go ahead without consent if necessary.
“With climate change well and truly upon us, we expect these emergencies to occur with increasing frequency and nobody is truly prepared and resourced to respond to them.”
Australia has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave since the start of the year.
Temperatures in Alice Springs hit 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) for 14 consecutive days and counting, a new record for the area, according to the country’s Bureau of Meteorology.
Health warnings were issued across New South Wales last week advising people to stay indoors during the hottest part of the day, minimize physical activity and keep hydrated.
Australia’s wild animals are increasingly suffering from the high temperatures, with more than a million fish reported dead and washed up on the banks of Murray-Darling river basin across the southeast, and colonies of bats falling from trees in Adelaide, according to CNN affiliate Nine News.
People have been warned to avoid contact with the bats as they can carry deadly diseases.
A report released by the Bureau of Meteorology last week showed that 2018 was Australia’s third-hottest year on record, with rainfall 11% below average
The report said climate change played a key role in the increase in the frequency or intensity of heat events, fire weather and drought.
This story has been updated to correct a miscalculation from Celsius to Fahrenheit.