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.
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.
Wild burros can tolerate a water loss as much as 30% of their body weight, and replenish it in only 5 minutes of drinking. (Humans require medical attention if 10% of body weight is lost to dehydration and require a full day of intermittent drinking to replenish this loss.)
Throughout all of the North American deserts.
Wild burros range through a wide variety of desert habitats as along as they are within 10 miles of drinking water.
Wild burros feed on a variety of of plants, including grasses, Mormon tea, palo verde and plantain. Although some moisture is provided by these plant materials, wild burros must have drinking water throughout the year. They can usually be seen foraging for food during daytime, except for summers, when they will forage only at night and in the early morning.
Female wild burros give birth to one colt each year, which grows to an average weight of about 350 pounds. Since the wild burro has no natural predator, competitor or common diseases, most young burros reach maturity and may live as long as 25 years in the wild.
Wildlife biologists maintain that the proliferation of wild burros has disrupted the natural order of desert environments and is responsible for the destruction of many native plants and animals. Because they so successfully compete for limited water and food resources, wild burros are blamed for the reduction of some native animal populations like the bighorn sheep.
Programs are now in place, administered by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to control wild burro populations in the Desert Southwest. The BLM manages about 42,000 wild horses and burros that roam public lands in the West under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. This law mandates the protection, management and control of wild, free-roaming horses and burros on public lands at population levels that ensure a thriving ecological balance. The BLM captures and places about 9,000 horses and burros up for adoption each year under its National Wild Horse and Burro Program.
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