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updated 8/30/2012 12:19:49 PM ET 2012-08-30T16:19:49

The mayor of a South Texas town appears to have been attacked and killed by a 500-pound donkey, according to the Associated Press.

The body of William “Bill” Bohlke, the 65-year-old mayor of Hollywood Park, was found on Monday night (Aug. 27) by sheriffs and relatives who went looking for him after he failed to return home from tending to his cattle ranch.

Atascosa County Chief Deputy David Soward told the San Antonio Express-News the search party’s findings on the ranch made it clear a combative male donkey had been responsible for the mayor's death.

"They can become very aggressive, very mean, sometimes triggered by a female in heat," Soward said. "We'll probably never know what triggered it, but it was evident that this particular donkey was involved, based on the evidence at the scene and what we saw on this donkey."

How common is the fate that befell Bohlke?

As it turns out, the Internet has already puzzled deeply over the probability of being killed by a donkey. Interest in the issue is due to a long-circulated and long-unsubstantiated "statistic" that would have us believe more people are killed every year by donkeys than by plane crashes.

Every probe into the authenticity of this claim, however, has hit a wall when the investigators realized that there is no good data on the annual number of deaths caused by donkeys. At this point, many turned to the website of the American Donkey and Mule Society (ADMS), which has this to say about the supposed statistic and the dangers of donkey ownership: "We often hear of people being INJURED by their donkeys, but can't yet name one case where someone in the USA was killed by a donkey."

Leaving behind the ADMS's now-out-of-date website, the best resource available for making educated guesses on the mortality threat posed by donkeys is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's WONDER site, which compiles official death information from around the United States and allows users to sort it by criteria that include underlying cause of death.

According to WONDER, from 1999 to 2009, 93 people died in Texas by being "bitten or struck by other mammals," a classification that excludes deaths resulting from interactions with rats and dogs. In that same period, 44 Texans died from accidents in commercial or private fixed-wing aircraft.

So unless about half of the people who were killed by "other mammals" perished during donkey attacks, which seems unlikely in a state where rodeo is popular and longhorns numerous (CDC does have some data on cattle-related deaths), a Texan is still more likely to die in a plane crash.

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