To some residents of Alpine, burros are friendly animals that make good pets and are engrained in the country’s history.
To state park employees, they’re a destructive, invasive menace that cross over from Mexico with disease, foul streams, threaten native plants, and wildlife, and should be eliminated. So far, park rangers have shot and killed more than 120 of the beasts.
“Our mandate is to eliminate all invasive species we can,” said Kevin Good, a special assistant with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, citing burro threats to black hawks, gophers, mule deer, and other native species. “That’s our priority.”
But the tactics are drawing outcries from animal rights activists across the country. The Washington-based animal rights group Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has called for a stop to the killings.
Feral burros have been crossing over the border from Mexico and into Big Bend Ranch State Park in southwest Texas for years, Good said. Aggressive and territorial, they commandeer watering holes and chase other animals away, he said. They also contaminate the park’s natural springs with their droppings. Under the state’s ongoing drought, those water sources have become even more precious.
Most threatened are the bighorn sheep, whose numbers plummeted in the past two decades and were reintroduced into the park last year in a conservation effort, Good said.
Park rangers roaming the 300,000-acre park are empowered to shoot burros with .30-06 or 7mm rifles. Rangers have so far killed at least 128 of the estimated 300 burros that roam the park.
“Frankly, it’s not something our staff enjoys doing,” Good said. “But it’s one of those things we feel just has to be done.”