In the crosshairs: Animal rights activists target Perry

Wild burro advocates have joined the primary season attacks on Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, pressuring the Texas governor to take a look at his state’s wildlife protection policies.

Wild burro are donkeys that have returned to the wild and are considered a pest by many in the southwest. Now the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is under fire for beginning a policy of lethal removal from Big Bend Ranch State Park in south Texas.

The Wild Burro Protection League has gathered more than 66,000 signatures on a Change.org petition and are working to pressure Perry into bringing an end to the wild burro removal.

“This atrocity has gone on for far too long,” said Karen Van Atta Luce, the petition author. “It is absolutely shocking that Governor Perry and Texas Parks and Wildlife haven’t recognized what incredible living assets the wild burros are.”

Yet according to Parks Director Brent Leisure, without any natural predators the animals tax the resources of the area, which have already been especially stretched with the state in a drought.

“The burros don’t have any predators, and they are very prolific. Their impacts are great. They are so difficult to round up that really our only option was to humanely harvest these animals,” Leisure told The Forth Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s not uncommon for us to do this with things like feral hogs that have similar impacts on resources … I can assure you, it’s not something we enjoy. We don’t actively go out and hunt them. In an opportunistic way — when we encounter them in the backcountry — we execute the policy.”

The petitioners, however, allege that the real reason the park is removing the invasive species is to bring in more wildlife for big game hunters.

“Parks staff have stated on the record that they needed to kill these wild burros to ensure that they could release restored ‘native’ bighorn [sheep] to the park,” the petition reads. “The bighorn are a high profile species that are prized by big game hunters. Their restoration is heavily subsidized by private individuals who believe that the wild burro is an ‘enemy’ of the bighorn. The hunting permits for the bighorn are sold in an auction format, with the highest recorded winning bid being $152,000. Texas is killing wild burros to make way for hunting opportunities for wealthy hunters.”

The charge is “simply not true,” Leisure said. “The bighorn sheep are doing very well, but what we are doing is managing for indigenous wildlife.”

The Change.org petition is directed at Perry, Leisure, State Parks Division Director Carter Smith, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s John Young, and Texas Wildlife Commission Chairman T. Dan Friedkin.

While 66,000 signatures for a little-known donkey is not likely to affect Perry’s presidential aspirations, the petition does reinforce that Perry — who famously shot a coyote while jogging and came under fire for hunting at a poorly named ranch — remains a target in his home state and among animal rights activists.

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