LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When volunteers with a wild horse advocacy group went to check on a herd of wild horses in Arizona, they came across a horrifying sight. They found 10 horses that had been shot, another four were still alive but suffering gunshot wounds.

This is the second time this year that horses from that herd have been shot and killed. In this recent case, the dead and wounded horses were discovered on Wednesday.

“Based on the condition of the bodies, maybe they were killed on Monday,” said Lynda Logan with Advocates for Wild Equines. “It looks like they were shot through the lungs and once they were down they shot them in the head.”

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The horses are part of the Alpine herd in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona, near the New Mexico border.

The herd, which is around 400 horses, is at the center of a dispute between wild horse advocates and the federal government.

The Alpine herd doesn’t have any protection under the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act because the herd is considered feral.

“The argument held against us is that they weren’t there in 1971. That’s why they’re not included,” Logan said.

She argues the horses are historic to the area and were there before 1971. Wild horse advocates have been pushing for a bill that would protect the herd.

Amelia Perrin with American Wild Horse Campaign said protecting the Alpine herd “will ultimately take legislation at the state or federal level.”

On Friday, a bill was introduced. The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022, would provide more protection for wild horses but it won’t help the Alpine herd because of its feral designation.

Horses from the Alpine herd are currently being removed from the Apache forest by the U.S. Forest Service because of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity which said the wild horses were destroying the habitat used by the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse which is near extinction.

Wild horse advocates question why the elk and cattle in the area were not part of the lawsuit settlement.

So far, about 80 horses have been captured. The horses were sold at an auction which also raises concerns.

They could go to people who would sell them to kill buyers and then get transported to Mexico and end up in slaughterhouses, Logan said.

She believes hunters going after elk who are upset with the wild horses may have done the shooting but admits she has no proof.

In addition to federal protection, wild horse advocates want an investigation of the shootings and are calling for enhanced penalties for anyone who harms or kills wild horses, even if they are considered feral.

“We call on a strong law enforcement response and prosecution of the perpetrator or perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law. This tragedy highlights the need for adequate and increased protections for this historic wild horse herd,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director for American Wild Horse Campaign.