ZAPATA, Texas — This week, the Bassmaster Elite Series pros will be visiting renowned Falcon Lake. And thankfully, the shores will not be littered with the carcasses of starved horses like it was three months ago.
Jeremy Starks, Elite Series pro and member of the West Virginia B.A.S.S. Nation, visited Falcon in December 2012 to pre-fish. But when he got there, fishing wasn’t on his mind.
“I was driving to an out-of-the-way ramp, and the road turned through a fenced area containing numerous horses,” explained Starks. “I was appalled to see the condition of these poor animals. They were emaciated beyond belief and had no food available.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were dead horses lying all around the launch ramp area,” he continued. “Horses were lying in the sun, unable to help themselves, and dying before my eyes,” he said. Starks estimated that 50 to 60 horses were dead.
Two officers from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) were nearby and didn’t immediately assist the fenced horses. Starks then called the TPWD supervisor and didn’t get the answers he wanted.
“I then took it further up the chain and spoke with TPWD's Commander Teague,” explained Starks. “He was understanding, and he seemed much more concerned about the situation. He advised me to call the sheriff.”
After contacting the Zapata County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy came out to Starks’ location and put down some of the animals that were beyond saving. The sheriff’s department contacted the owner, who brought some hay for the short term.
The agency since has issued a statement: “TPWD game wardens and Zapata County deputies are continuing their investigation of this incident. As a state conservation agency committed to sustainable and ethical hunting and fishing, TPWD respects life and deplores the unnecessary suffering of any living thing.”
Debra Hengst, a former WBT angler and current Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens competitor, helped make that happen after she learned of Starks’ discovery.
“I did speak with the game warden supervisor, the Zapata Sheriff’s Office, and KRGV TV, who ultimately took the story a step farther,” said the Texas angler, referencing this news segment. “I do believe in my heart that everyone is on top of this now to try and help the horses.”
Local angler Dick Berryman, widower of late WBT angler Penny Berryman, helped feed the horses for a while. And the sheriff’s department took action to assist the horses.
Starks visited the fishery again six weeks later. “It’s so much better now,” he said. “It makes me so glad to see the situation taken care of.”