The shooting of one of Arizona’s iconic Salt River wild horses is being investigated by deputies in Maricopa County.
The horse named Dotty was found dead in Tonto National Forest on the morning of October 1.
The Salt River horses made headlines in August over plans by US Forest Service Officials to muster the horses and sell them at auction.
The horses, which have lived in the area for nearly a century and can regularly be seen wading into the river to graze on the aquatic grasses, are not protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which applies only to mustangs living in formally recognized management areas.
A huge campaign in the US driven through social media to save the 100 or so horses swayed the agency to reconsider its position. The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which drove the campaign, is currently lobbying for the permanent protection of this herd.
The group’s president, Simone Netherlands, appealed for anyone with information about the circumstances surrounding the death of the 12-year old mare to contact authorities.
Dotty was found dead in the river, near the Coon Bluff parking area. She appeared to have been shot in the head and possibly her shoulder. She was last seen unharmed on September 30.
A horse was killed last year in practically the same location from gunshots to the chest, the group said. Two other horses survived gunshot wounds last year and are still alive today.
“The exact details surrounding the death of this beautiful mare have not yet been determined,” Netherlands said.
“It is very disturbing that there may be someone out there with cruel intent, and we are committed to finding out what happened to Dotty.”
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office initially believed Dotty had not been shot, but it now believes she was struck with a small caliber bullet. The case is being investigated by the sheriff’s animal cruelty divison.