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Texas donkeys abandoned by ranchers

Drought-hit farmers in the US have been abandoning donkeys by the hundreds, turning them into wandering refugees that have severely tested animal rescue groups.

America's biggest donkey rescue group says that in the last year it has taken in nearly 800 animals abandoned in Texas, where ranchers mainly use the animals to guard their herds.

Many of the cattle and goats have been sold off, largely because of the drought and the US economic slump, putting the donkeys out of a job.

Although the drought that began in late 2010 is over now, the flood of donkeys continues, said Mark Meyers, executive director of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue. "Last week I spent two days on the road and got 20 donkeys each day," he said.

"Hay prices still haven't come down. And what little grass is growing, people are going to save it for the animals that are going to make them money."

In the north Louisiana town of Athens, Keith Gantt, who rounds up loose livestock for the Claiborne parish sheriff's office, said he has dozens of donkeys that he cannot give away. "People just turn them out on the highway. The sheriff's department makes me go catch them and then I get stuck with them," he said.

The donkey market has shrivelled with the dried-up fields of Texas, where auction houses will not take them.

Mr Meyers said: "Texas has large, large, large, large ranches. As the wells dried up and grazing's gone down, animals are coming up to the fence to eat. People are realising they've sold all their cattle ... but they've got 20 donkeys."

People often sneak donkeys on to somebody else's land, he said. "They'll drive a couple of counties over, look for a place where there's a bad part on a fence and kick them on to somebody else's property. I get a call at least once a week from somebody saying 'I woke up and found donkeys on my property'."

Texas ranchers use female donkeys to guard remote herds of livestock, said Kathy Dean, founder of Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett, Colorado. They are docile, friendly, and do not eat like horses, she said. The animals are instinctively hostile to dogs and their cousins: wolves and coyotes.

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