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INVESTIGATION: A behind-the-scenes look at Texas’ ‘exotic’ animal ranches

In Texas, exotic species such as zebras are classified as livestock. 'You can hunt them day or night, no bag limits, no seasons', says John Silovsky of the Texas Parks and Wildlife.

DOUGLAS MAIN: Wildlife Partners is one of Texas’ newest and largest exotic wildlife ranching companies. It specializes in raising, buying, selling, and transporting hoofed animals, from oryxes to zebras to Cape buffalo. These animals “are good as $100 bills,” Gilroy says. But that’s understating it a bit. One adult female Cape buffalo or giraffe could sell for $200,000, while a pair could fetch $250,000.

This ranch is just one of thousands throughout Texas that raises exotic hoofed animals, also known as hoofstock or ungulates. There are more than a million non-native hoofstock across the state, belonging to 125 different species, according to Charly Seale, head of Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association, an industry group with some 5,000 ranchers as members. The industry brings in $2 billion in revenue annually, he says.

As with domestic cattle operations, owners make money by raising and selling the animals—to each other, to wealthy landowners who enjoy owning the creatures, and to commercial hunting operations, where customers can put up large fees to shoot rare, exotic animals without traveling abroad. (Read more about sport hunting here.)

Wildlife Partners, like many exotic game ranches, is not a commercial hunting ranch. Its revenue comes from breeding, buying, and selling animals. Some of those creatures, however, do end up on hunting ranches. But the bulk of the industry, Gilroy says, is made up of private citizens who don’t offer commercial hunts. “Owning exotic wildlife gives landowners a sense of pride,” Gilroy says, as well as status…

Texas’ exotic game animals aren’t domesticated and often don’t require much hands-on care, but neither are they truly wild. Unlike native white-tailed deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, they’re not legally classified as game—even though they’re often hunted. Instead, like domestic livestock and pets, they’re considered private property.

Some of the species on these ranches are threatened, endangered, or even extinct in the wild, like the scimitar-horned oryx. But these and almost all exotic hoof-stock species on Texas ranches can be hunted legally because most aren’t on the U.S. Endangered Species Act list, which focuses primarily on the protection of native species. Under Texas law, exotic species are classified as “livestock,” so while the owners must adhere to certain animal health requirements, there’s little regulation beyond that…

You can hunt them “day or night,” says John Silovsky, deputy director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “No bag limits, no seasons.” This legal landscape, combined with Texas’ famously independent character, its emphasis on private property rights, vast open spaces, and warm climate, have created the perfect recipe for exotic game ranching. SOURCE…

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