Monday, October 31, 2011

How Donkeys Contributed to the History and Culture of the Old West: Save the Wild Burros in Texas!

I was reading a book about the early pioneers when I came across a series of paintings depicting daily life in Central and South Texas cities. The paintings were made during the 1890s. They showed wagons pulled by donkeys through the center of town, men leading small burros with cut wood tied to their backs and sides, and small carts piled high with grains, pulled by burros. The paintings were very clear about one aspect of early pioneer Texas life--the donkey, or burro, was important to both the history and culture of Texas.

Oddly, there were few horses in the paintings. I suspect this was due to the fact that wild burros, or donkeys, were abundant in Texas at that time. Texas was once part of Mexico, and the wild burros had roamed the Texas hillsides since the 1600s when the Spanish brought them across the ocean on ships. Those that escaped formed small herds, or joined in with the herds of wild horses that had also escaped from their Spanish owners. Occasionally, the burros where rounded up and used on farms and in mining operations.

There's a controversy brewing in Texas right now. Some call it Burrogate, which is a quippy name, but does little to explain the tragic circumstances taking place in Big Bend Ranch State Park. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has issued an extermination order for wild burros, elk, and aoudads in an effort to increase the numbers of endangered bighorn sheep. They are not offering the animals to hunters to use these animals for meat to feed their families, they are not rounding them up and offering them for adoption, they are shooting them down with high powered rifles from helicopters--there is no reason why any logical person should agree with this behavior.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department refers to the loving, hard-working, wild burros as "immigrants from Mexico," trying to create subliminal connections with current political controversies, completely disregarding the historical and cultural contributions the wild burros have provided to the state of Texas. And what does any of this have to do with shooting aoudads, wild burros, and elk from helicopters using high power rifles?

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), these actions are necessary in order to increase herds of endangered bighorn sheep, but they are auctioning off hunting licenses for these same bighorn sheep at $115,000 or more in what they claim is an effort to raise money for breeding programs for the bighorn sheep. So, they are shooting the elk, aoudads and wild burros with high powered rifles from helicopters to raise bighorn sheep that will be shot with high powered rifles from helicopters.

When they are shot, the bodies of the elk, aoudads and wild burros are tossed into dumpsters, or left by the roadside to rot, according to memos provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department through Freedom of Information Act requests. At one time, the TPWD did attempt to round up a herd of wild burros. They were only successful in capturing a young jenny and her foal. They shot the mother and child in the head and discarded their bodies in a garbage dumpster in Presidio.

The bighorn sheep are not used for meat to feed families through the winter. Their heads and horns are hung in trophy rooms of wealthy hunters around the world because only the wealthy hunters can afford a hunting license of $115,000. At these rates, hunting bighorn sheep is obviously not a privilege offered to native Texans providing for their families as their ancestors have done for the past 100 years or so. In all fairness, native Texas hunters should feel righteous indignation toward the actions of the TPWD.

A petition is currently circulating, urging Texas Governor Rick Perry to repeal the extermination orders, the death sentence passed on the elk, aoudads, and wild burros. petition to save the wild burros. Please, sign this petition and help save these beautiful creatures from a horrific end. Give them the place of honor they deserve in the history of the American Wild West.

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...