The 300 feral burros living in Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas are considered to be a destructive nuisance. Since 2007 park rangers have been authorized to shoot and kill the animals. On Tuesday Texas suspended that policy, thanks to an offer from the Humane Society of the United States to develop a humane plan to remove the animals.
Texas park rangers have killed 130 burros that roam the 316,000-acre state-owned park near the Rio Grande. The state claims they do not have the funds to capture and relocate the wild burros who are accused of using too much of the natural resources and threatening the lives of other animals like bighorn sheep.
Ironically Big Bend National Park, which sits next to the state park and is federally run, sees the burros in a totally different light. They view the feral donkeys as the “living symbols and pioneer spirit of the West” and observe a 40-year-old federal ban on killing the animals.
This paradox didn’t go unnoticed by HSUS who sent Nicole Paquette, their Texas director, to review the situation and negotiate a plan. She helped convince Texas wildlife officials to suspend the killing policy.
“We are happy to work with the department and are pleased that they have halted lethal control of the burros while discussions are under way,” said Paquette.
The first part of the plan will be to determine the exact numbers of burros living in Big Bend Ranch State Park and where they are located.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has agreed to contribute up to $10,000 to obtain an aerial survey of the wild burros. After the survey, Humane Society officials will sit down and “assess the viable non-lethal alternatives.”
HSUS is also researching facilities where the burros could possibly be relocated. The organization recently airlifted 119 burros from Hawaii to a ranch in California, and it has a 1,300-acre rescue ranch in northeast Texas that is home to about 1,200 animals.
“We’d have to look at the population (at the rescue ranch) and see how much more the acreage could stand,” said Paquette. Another 300 rescued burros already live on the property.
“We have not committed to getting the burros out of the park. We don’t even know if that’s feasible,” continued Paquette.
Over the years Texas wildlife officials have made several attempts to trap and relocate the burros, but each proved to be unsuccessful. Without a plan to control the population, in 2007 they resorted to the extreme method of shooting the animals.
When the public became aware that 71 burros had been killed they were outraged and called for an end to the policy. Texas wildlife turned to a nonprofit organization called, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue for help, but after two years the group failed to capture any of the animals. Park rangers resumed shooting the burros, killing 59 from August 2010 to September 2011.
Wildlife officials say their main responsibility to the area is to protect the park’s land and water. They encourage nonlethal solutions from outside agencies to fix the burro problem and are hopeful HSUS will come through with an answer. However, they are ready to resume their killing policy if the Humane Society’s methods “prove unfeasible.”
Photo Credit: AlanVernon