The Yturria Ranch in Southeast Texas

Some of the best places to see wild megafauna are areas managed by humans. The Yturria Ranch, located in southeast Texas, is a good example of a wildlife haven enhanced by people. During 1849 Francisco Yturria inherited his wife’s land grant and became the owner of 312 square miles. He made a smart decision shortly after the Mexican War and sided with local white people (the winning side) in their dispute with Hispanic partisans who wanted to take land back for Mexicans. This cemented his claim on the land. Today, Richard Butler, a 5th generation descendent of Yturria, owns the ranch, though it has been whittled down to 22 square miles. Still, it is so big it has its own railroad stop. It has always been a working cattle ranch, but now much of the ranch’s revenue comes from offering hunters the chance to shoot exotic big game. The land here has been improved by wildlife managers to help support native species and the introduced populations of African and Indian antelopes that make the ranch an impressive refuge for megafauna.

Tractors are used to disc the land, a process that disturbs the soil and increases the variety of plant species able to thrive, thus providing a wide range of food for animals. Wells and manmade water tanks attract thirsty wildlife. And ranch managers are working to restore native Tamaulipas thorn scrub, a type of environment with dry soils high in calcium. Mesquite, plateau live oak, cenizo, acacia, Texas ebony, Texas persimmon, yucca, and a variety of unusual forbs and grasses grow on Tamaulipas thorn scrub land. Other environments found on the ranch include coastal savannah, live oak forests, mesquite groves, pastures, and wetlands.

The ranch is rich in native and nonnative megafauna populations. In addition to white tail deer and collared peccary, hunters seek out African waterbuck, oryx, and lechwe or Indian blackbuck and nilgai antelope. Feral hogs must also be abundant, though not advertised (hunters can kill them just about anywhere). Zebras roam the ranch too. Predators living on the ranch include coyote, cougar, bobcat, and ocelot. Ranch managers participate in ocelot conservation. This species is uncommon on this side of the Rio Grande. The ranch hosts more species of megafauna today than have been found here since the late Pleistocene, at least 12,000 years ago. The ranch supports healthy populations of turkey and quail. Caracaras, roadrunners, and species of birds that prefer scarce human populations nest on the ranch.

The Yturria Ranch is a vast wilderness.
Herd of endangered oryx antelope on the Yturria Ranch.
Blackbuck antelope, native to India, abound on the Yturria Ranch.

It costs $1500 a night to stay on the ranch, and there is a 2-day minimum. Hunters with the urge to kill exotic animals are probably the most frequent guests, but one doesn’t have to be a hunter to stay here. Guided fishing trips and bird tours led by professional ornithologists are offered. I’d be happy just to take a walk and photograph any wildlife I encountered. I briefly fantasized about living in the area. The ranch spans parts of 2 counties, but from a satellite view it looks like there is just 1 suburban residential development in the area, and shopping centers are scarce. However, San Antonio looks to be about an hour away, and Padre Island beach is about 30 minutes away. New Orleans is a day’s drive. Climate is subtropical and grapefruit are grown nearby. I wonder if beef prices are cheaper here because it is close to the source. I think this region is a pretty nice choice for retirees.


2 Responses to “The Yturria Ranch in Southeast Texas”

  1. William Boyd Says:

    Thanks for mentioning this bit of south Texas history. While I lived in Harlingen for the better part of two years, I never heard of this ranch, although I did become somewhat familiar with the Audubon Society’s Sabal Palm Sanctuary along the Rio Brave (aka Rio Grande) down river from Brownsville. BB

  2. Tommy Cellum Says:

    I grew up in Edcouch- Elsa . Lived there for 23 years. I can remember going to Galveston when 77 was two lane and always seeing the Yturria Ranch sign on the East side of the highway. I didn’t know that the ranch was that big. Thanks for the information.

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