Nearly 200 wild horses found dead, buried in mud on Navajo Nation land (GRAPHIC VIDEO)

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President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez at a site visit Wednesday morning on May 2. (Source: Navajo Nation) President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez at a site visit Wednesday morning on May 2. (Source: Navajo Nation)

Drought and famine are being blamed for the deaths of nearly 200 wild horses found in a stock pond in Gray Mountain, which is a Navajo Nation community in northern Arizona.

According to the Navajo Nation, the community, which is a little more than 45 minutes north of Flagstaff along Highway 89, has been struggling the with the problem of feral horses for several years.

“The occurrence of horses dying at this particular watering pond is not a new but a seasonal issue,” according to a news release.

[RELATED: Dozens of wild horses found dead amid Southwest drought]

With tens of thousands of wild horses roaming Navajo Nation -- the 2016 study estimated more 38,000 -- the problem is not limited to Gray Mountain.

“This tragic incident exemplifies the problem the Navajo Nation faces in an overpopulation of feral horses,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. “There is a process for round-ups and it begins with the local chapter. What they need is a resolution requesting a round-up, which prompts the assistance of the Navajo Nation and BIA. Help is there, but they have to ask for it.”

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According to the Navajo Nation, the 191 horses died of natural causes.

“These horses weren’t shot or maliciously killed by an individual,” Navajo Nation Vice President Nez said. “These animals were searching for water to stay alive. In the process, they, unfortunately burrowed themselves into the mud and couldn’t escape because they were so weak.”

A grim photo from the site shows the horses around the mostly dry pond, many of them in mud up to their thighs and even their necks.

[GRAPHIC PHOTO: 191 dead horses found at Gray Mountain watering hole]

[GRAPHIC PHOTO: Horses trapped by mud of dried-up watering hole]

“Some are even buried beneath others,” Nina Chester, a Navajo Nation spokeswoman, said.

The Navajo Nations and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have teamed up to assess the situation and start the cleanup process, including taking measures to prevent the spread of disease.

The horses will be buried at the site, which will then be permanently closed and covered. A new watering hole will be established at a different location that has yet to be determined.

Both the Navajo Water Management Branch and the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency said burying the horses on site will not affect the groundwater.

The Navajo Nation has been wrestling with the problem of wild horses for some time, saying the ecosystem simply cannot support the herds.

In late February, the Navajo Nation canceled a hunt meant to thin a herd in the Carrizo Mountains, a winter range area in the northeastern part of the state nearly four hours from Gray Mountain. Horse advocates had protested the hunt.

[READ MORE: Navajo Nation cancels plans for wild horse hunt in Arizona]

A day later tribal officials, anticipating large-scale drought conditions to persist this summer, issued an emergency drought declaration. They say that will create a shortage of water and feed for livestock.

[RELATED: Navajo Nation issues new emergency drought declaration]

The Navajo Nation, which gained independence from the U.S. federal government in 1868, spans three states -- Arizona, New Mexico and Utah -- and has a population of 250,000. It's the largest American Indian reservation in the country.

Th Associated Press contributed to this story.

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