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Can You Be Arrested for Shooting A Burro In The Davis Mountains Resort? It Depends.

The Davis Mountains Property Owners Association bylaws state hunting is not allowed. (Diana Nguyen / Marfa Public Radio)

By Diana Nguyen

In the Davis Mountains Resort, burros (often colloquially referred to as donkeys) are both loved and hated by residents. But recently, a series of mysterious deaths have caused a controversy within the community. People are pooling together their money to encourage those with information about whoever might responsible to come forward.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is investigating the incidents. But what are the potential legal repercussions for killing the animal?

Under the high skies of far West Texas, along dirt roads, you'll come across flyers that read “REWARD: $4000 - Leading to the arrest/conviction of person(s) shooting donkeys in the Davis Mountains Resort - Fort Davis, Texas."

The signs have been cropping up around the Big Bend the past couple of weeks. 

Some residents of the Davis Mountains Resort — a private, quiet community comprised of mostly retirees — are spearheading an effort to find whoever is responsible for the burro deaths in the residential area. 

The first reports of burro deaths date back to the spring, and cite burros that have been shot in the head, and more recently, wounded in the stomach.

The local game warden says there have been at least five cases like this. Texas Parks and Wildlife is investigating the incidents, but even if they find out who is responsible, there's not a guarantee the person(s) will be arrested.

The Davis Mountains Property Owners Association, which sets the guidelines for the Davis Mountains Resort, does have a rule that bans hunting.  But those regulations aren’t enforceable by law. On top of that, burros aren’t a protected animal, which means it’s not illegal to shoot them if you have a hunting license and landowner consent.

However, Una Learish, the office manager for the Davis Mountains Property Owners Association, is convinced there are other penal code violations that might include animal cruelty or trespassing.  She’s helping coordinate efforts to find the person responsible for the burro deaths. (She's also the person you’d reach if you call the number of the flyers.)

Unless more evidence surfaces that suggest other laws have been broken, law enforcement, like the game warden and sheriff's office, have their hands tied.

The Burro-Divide

The burros that inhabit the DMR are a contentious subject. The animals were introduced to the country by Spaniards hundreds of years ago, and are known to cause trouble for native species by crowding out their resources and sometimes contaminating their water supply. 

Still, residents like Learish feel strongly about what she calls "gentle, nice animals." In fact, it's the reason she decided to lay down roots in the DMR a few years ago. "When I drove up here to look at a piece of property, I saw the wild donkeys and I said, 'That’s it. I’ll move here.'"

Some residents feed and water the feral animals, looking forward to their regular visits. But for all of the outspoken burro-lovers in the community, there are residents who absolutely despise them, like Joe Rowe. (To be clear, Rowe and Learish are friends, even though they on are on polar sides when it comes to the wild animals.)

Rowe's lived in the DMR since the early nineties and has had his fair share of run-ins with the animals. "I hate the damn things. I wish there wasn’t a donkey out here," he says.

Standing out on his porch, Rowe points to a dry trough in the yard. There's a stepladder leading up to it, so wildlife could easily access the water he used to fill it with. But he's stopped filling it because the burros "come up here and drink as much water as a damn giraffe. And three or four of em would suck that tank dry, [then] they will turn around and crap right where they drink," Rowe says.

The contamination means nearby deer don't come by as often, so Rowe no longer bothers. He also says when he first started building his house, the burros would often destroy his projects.

Despite him being sick of the burros, Rowe isn't happy that they're being killed. And as someone who was heavily involved in almost every facet of the property owners association for several years, he's familiar with controversies involving animal deaths.

Having gone through similar experiences in the past, Rowe is skeptical that there will be enough evidence to arrest or convict anyone. 

In an emailed response to Marfa Public Radio, Texas Parks and Wildlife is urging anyone with information about the killings to call the Operation Game Thief crime-stoppers hotline at 1-800-792-4263.

Diana Nguyen is a reporter for Marfa Public Radio.