For a group of cowboys hired by the USDA, patrolling for stray cattle carrying a deadly tick species has become increasingly dangerous along the hostile Texas-Mexico border.
Story and photography by Ryan T. Bell
The international border between Texas and Mexico is a hot zone – in more ways than one. Climatically, high temperatures break 100 degrees for months at a time. Politically, the boundary is rife with tensions over immigration and drug trafficking from Mexico. And biologically, the region is home to one of the largest disease hot zones in the world, the “fever tick quarantine zone.”
The 700-mile long quarantine zone follows the Rio Grande River from Amistad Reservoir (near the Texas boot heel) to the Gulf of Mexico. It acts as a buffer against the spread of the tick boophilus annulatus, a.k.a. the “fever tick.” This dastardly arachnid sucks the lifeblood out of horses and cattle, and spreads the deadly disease bovine piroplasmosis.
Patrolling the area are 61 Texas cowboys known as Tick Riders, hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to round up stray livestock that transport the ticks from Mexico. That most Americans haven’t heard of the Tick Riders is a testament to how well they do their job. If fever ticks infiltrated the quarantine zone, the nation would know because cattle and horses would die by the thousands. Continue reading