Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Donkey-Powered Protesters March on Texas Capitol

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Marjorie Farabee was stopped from bringing her wagon to the steps of the capitol. But she did deliver around 100,000 signatures collected online to protest the burro killings.

Words matter in life. And the case of the the wild donkeys of West Texas is no exception.

If you call them “Wild Burros” you could be inclined to see them as scrappy survivors, emblems of the Old West. If you call them “Feral Donkeys,” well, then they sound like pests that need to be exterminated.

In Texas, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

If you were near the State Capitol Wednesday, you got a first-hand glimpse of the fight heating up between the two camps. Six donkeys (including “Miss Abby,” a Donkey with her own blog), and about a dozen protesters were there to deliver a message to the Texas Governor: “Stop killing the wild burros of Texas.”

For years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has had a policy of killing the burros. The donkeys were first introduced by early Spanish colonists in the 1600s. Today, the state views them as a dangerous invasive species, responsible for habitat destruction and the fouling of West Texas water sources (TPWD even has a webpage devoted to burro droppings found near water wells).

The Donkeys Were Here First

The riders, many of them from West Texas where burros are more common, see it differently.

“The burros have been there longer than Texas Parks and Wildlife,” says Rachel Waller Rondeaux from Alpine. She is a member of Red Horse Nation, a group devoted to wild horse protection. “I mean I think [Parks and Wildlife] is invasive, personally,”

Waller Rondeaux and others argue that the burros have lived in relative harmony with the Texas

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Gayle-Suzanne Barron brings a box of 100,000 signatures collected online to protest the killing of Burros to the offices of the governor and leutenant governor.

landscape since colonial times. They say the killing of burros has increased since a state program got underway to re-introduce longhorn sheep to West Texas. The state, they argue, wants to make money off the sheep hunting licenses.

“It’s all for the money,” says Waller Rondeaux.

That’s a charge Parks and Wildlife denies. Kevin Good, special assistant to the director of state parks, says the feral and exotic animal removal program has been in place since the early 1990s. If anything’s changed since then, he said, it’s been the population of wild donkeys.

“Due to the droughts and the down economy, people just can’t afford to take care of their animals anymore and they’ve turned them loose,” says Good.

“If you’ve got an animal like a burro that’s eating grass,” he says, “than obviously that’s grass that’s not available for an animal like a rabbit. And so if your rabbit population declines, that means less food for red tail hawks for instance.”

Cuter than Feral Hogs

But back at the state capitol, where visitors Josie Sinomano and her friends took turns petting one of the donkeys, the PR challenge of defending the state’s program came into full focus.

“[The donkey] is adorable!” said Sinomano. ” I like the way it was eating the mints and stuff. It’s cute.”

“Obviously some animals are more attractive to humans than others, but we try to separate cuteness from resource management.”

– Kevin Good, Texas Parks & Wildlife

When asked about the PR challenge of killing creatures that many find “adorable,” Good conceded that it’s a challenge.

“Obviously some animals are more attractive to humans than others,” he said “but we try to separate cuteness from resource management. That’s not a good science-based way to run a parks system.”

But Good said the department is open to changing its policy if a third party created a burro sanctuary in West Texas. Many of the protesters would prefer the donkeys continue to roam free, but they seemed open to the idea.

“That is a compromise, but at least they’re alive,” said Gayle-Suzanne Barron.

The state is in talks with the Humane Society about a potential burro sanctuary. But there is one serious stumbling block: Money. Texas Parks and Wildlife says the sanctuary would need to be funded by outside source.


  • Miss Abby

    From: Melinda Eppler Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 8:46 AMTo: ’donkeys.can.do.@gmail.com’Subject: January 18 Capitol Visit Good morning, We spoke last Friday about your January 18 visit to the Capitol.  I was looking over your website and after seeing the photos, I have a few concerns. The primary concern, is that the donkey/wagon will not fit through our security bollards and therefore, it will not be able to come onto the Capitol grounds.  I would suggest you consider pulling the wagon up to Brazos – outside the Capitol’s east gate, in the bus unloading area.   Here is a map indicating the location of the bus unloading area: http://www.tspb.state.tx.us/spb/plan/FloorPlan/Complex.htm Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Thank you!Mindy EpplerState Preservation Board 

    Miss AbbyJan 17 (3 days ago)to Stephanie, Karen, MelindaIt will fit, it is very narrow, and much smaller than appears in the photo.  What is the distance between the bollards? This is a wagon reduced in scale to replicate a buckboard.  It is miniture.   I fit through a 4′ wide opening at the Artwalk in Alpine. Marjorie Farabee

    Miss AbbyJan 17 (3 days ago)to Johnny, Melinda, Karen, StephanieI just went to the ranch and measured.  It is exactly 4′ 1″ between the wheels.

    Melinda Eppler Melinda.Eppler@tspb.state.tx.usJan 17 (2 days ago)to meGood afternoon, Thanks for the information on the measurement.  If it will not fit through the bollards, please keep in mind that we cannot lower them to accommodate access.  Also, as we discussed, please be sure the animals stay on the asphalt and do not venture on to the grass or limestone walkways. 
    Thank you!
    Mindy Eppler
    State Preservation Board512-463-3051As you will note in the picture of Miss Abby, and myself above the bollard WAS down, but blocked by a police car.  The car and orange cone were removed after we were turned away.  When Abby and I returned unhitched, 30 minutes later from 3 blocks away, it was gone.

  • Miss Abby

    We were halted and turned away.  We were told we could not enter.  This is not what this e-mail says.  I had prior approval to bring the wagon in, until Melinda Eppler “was looking over our website”.   The real issue was that they did not like our message.  
    Marjorie Farabee 

  • Miss Abby

    Please note in the first photo above that the bollards (the round metal objects seen to the left of the guard house, WERE down on the right but BLOCKED by a police car.  They did not have to lower them to accommodate our access.  They were already down.  We were denied access after being previously approved the week before.  Once Miss Eppler took over our access was denied with the parameters she set forth.

  • Miss Abby

    I clicked the blog link in the article and it brought up the blog from some time ago.  Here is the correct link.  www.donkeyscando.com

  • Good Day 

      There are over 325,000 horse owners in the Province of Ontario in Canada, that are developing a very negative opinion about the State of Texas. While your State is trying to promote Texas as an ” Outdoor Adventure land “, and trying to get tourists to visit, other people in your State Government are working overtime to Rid Texas of some of it’s most unique attractions, it’s Wild Free Roaming Burros.  It seems the most notorious of these  State bureaucrats is TPWD Kevin Good. who has pledged to remove Burros as rapidly as he can.  Most Canadians view such tactics with disgust .  While you can argue that we Canadians have no say in your States policies, we can certainly choose to spend our vacation dollars in more Horse & Burro friendly regions, and were not alone in this position.  If Texas government wants to benefit from a recovery in tourism, it may do well to take a more rational approach to managing Texas Wild Free Roaming Icons.    In closing I would like to Thank You for your consideration in this matter.

  • Go Donkeys! Boo Perry!

  • Debbie

    I sure hope your Governor gives this petition the attention it deserves! But I fear Rick Perry could care less. Not enough money in it for him to care:-(

  • Kathleen

    ““Due to the droughts and the down economy, people just can’t afford to
    take care of their animals anymore and they’ve turned them loose,”
    says Good.”

    THAT is pure PROPAGANDA! Those burros are NOT abandoned, they were BORN in the wild in BBSP. This statement is simply a lie designed to trick readers into believing these are domesticated animals that were abandoned rather than wild NATIVE animals that have lived in that region continuously for 400-500 years! Exactly what buffoon does Mr. Good think is going to buy his fabrication?

    “we try to separate cuteness from resource management. That’s not a good science-based way to run a parks system.”
    “If you’ve got an animal like a burro that’s eating grass,” he says,
    “than obviously that’s grass that’s not available for an animal like a
    rabbit. And so if your rabbit population declines, that means less food
    for red tail hawks for instance.”

    What a JOKE these positions are! Mr. Good, where are the studies proving the burros have been abandoned and are not wild? Where are the studies proving the burros are adversely impacting rabbits and hawks? Where are the studies proving that the way to fix this FABRICATED “problem” is to remove all burros, elk, aodad, cougar & bobcat? This is the “plan”, to remove all but bighorn sheep. It begs the question: Why would any scientific approach advocate removing biological diversity in favor of one species? Any child knows an environment must have diversity because species are interdependent for their very existence!

    Texas Parks & Wildlife has a big problem on its hands – it is simply WRONG, it is blatantly LYING to the public about its intentions, about the “facts” and the cat is now fully out of the bag. If you think the rest of the world is just going to excuse you for this, TP&W, you are sadly very very mistaken. It has only just begun, people supporting these animals are NOT GOING ANYWHERE.

    As for a private entity paying to support the removal and subsequent upkeep of WILD animals that TP&W is wrongly CHOOSING to exterminate, with NO supporting science to back up that choice — well, that is the most preposterous proposal you could have possibly put forward. These are WILD ANIMALS, native to America and part of the historcal and cultural heritage of your state and it’s YOUR JOB (the state’s job) to protect all of that. You folks are the MOST INSULTING bunch of ignorant rednecks I think I have seen in a long time. Wow!

    • Miss Abby

      Kathleen, I cannot make your statement any better.  Dead on accurate, and I thank you.

  • Libdir2

    Informative and humorous, with a great sound track.  Thanks.

  • Meadowsong55

    Sounds like killing is taking place before facts are gathered…..where’s the science supporting the allegation that wild burros in West Texas are harming the environment?  Prove it, first! 

  • Drbethune

    On the linked TPWD webpage devoted to “Natural Resource Damage Caused by Feral Burros

    Big Bend Ranch State Park” they include a picture of some droppings at Big Bend with the caption: “Burro droppings at an archeological site, negatively impacting visitors experience”. 

    I always thought one of the main reasons people went to nature parks is to see wildlife.  But I guess TPWD is trying to limit it to animals that don’t poo.

  • We do not need to put these animals in some kind of zoo (sanctuary).  The land needs wild animals in order to be healthy.

    The burro eradication policy is based on a the disproven theory that the Big Bend Ranch State Park will have improving habitat by virtue of removing burros, elk and other wild animals to help bighorn and deer.  This whole idea that if you like one animal you remove all other animals, is wrong because animals function as communities not separate species.  And plants need animals and animal impact, as much as animals need plantsTo learn about “Burros and Bio-Diversity”, CLICK HERE:  http://circleranchtx.com/burro-troubleDo not blame hunters or think this is even about Texas Parks and Wildlife making money from bighorn tags, because it gets nothing from tag sales.  It  is just bad science and bureaucrats acting pursuant to internal agendas, even though these have been shown to lead to outcomes contrary to their agency’s own mission: a local metaphor for what is wrong in so much of our government.We need an open inquiry in to range practices across far-West Texas, in which authorities cannot control the evidence.  Desertification of desert grasslands is destroying wildlife, habitat, and, the Western ranching culture which is so important to our national character.Circle RanchVan Horn

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