Friday, January 20, 2012

High Desert Plants & Wildlife, The Wild Burro, Part 6 in a Series

A “wild burro” is an unbranded, unclaimed, free-roaming burro found on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or U.S. Forest Service (USFS), administered rangelands. The greatest number of wild burros live within the arid deserts of the Southwest. Wild burros are descendants of pack animals that wandered off, or were released by prospectors and miners.

The wild burro was first introduced into the Desert Southwest by Spaniards in the 1500s. Wild burros have long ears, a short mane and reach a height of up to five feet at the shoulders. They vary in color from black to brown to gray. Wild burros can survive in a wide variety of desert habitats as long as they are within 10 miles of drinking water.

Originally from Africa (where they were called the Wild Ass), these pack animals were prized for their hardiness in arid country. They are sure-footed, can locate food in barren terrain and can carry heavy burdens for days through hot, dry environments.

Early prospectors relied heavily on burros as they trekked long distances across the deserts in search of gold and silver. Many of these burros survived, even though their owners perished under the harsh desert conditions. Many more burros escaped or were released during the settlement of the West. Because of their hardiness, wild burros have thrived throughout the North American deserts, and their numbers have increased to perhaps 20,000.

Federal protection and a lack of natural predators resulted in thriving wild burros that grow in number each year. BLM monitors rangelands and wild burro populations to determine the number of animals, including livestock and wildlife, the land can support. Each year BLM gathers excess wild burros from areas where vegetation and water could be negatively impacted by over use.

These excess animals are offered for adoption to qualified people through BLM’s Adopt-a-Horse or-Burro Program. From 1973 through 1999, BLM has used this popular program to place more than 25,000 Wild Burros into private care.

Learn more about Wild Burros in the Plants & Wildlife section of Taos Unlimited

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