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  • Writer's pictureStaci-lee Sherwood

The wild Burros - the forgotten equine

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

By Staci-lee Sherwood

Many people wonder what the difference is between a wild Burro and a Donkey. They are the same species. Their name differentiates them as either domesticated (donkey) or wild (burro) but they are both burros. A mule is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. All three have a long sordid history and relationship with people, most notably as a cheap form of transport. The wild burro was given full legal protection along with wild horses back in 1971.

Most people assume all laws on the books are enforced, that is not true, or that if broken there is some sort of punishment also not always true. When it comes to the law protecting the wild burros it has never been enforced by the Bureau of land MISmanagment (BLM). In fact they have been brutalized for 50 years by this very agency. Hundreds of millions of your tax dollars have poured into the coffers of the BLM which they use to run down the burros with helicopters in roundups or use bait traps which are much more humane. The burros are abused, neglected and starved while in corrals which are really sterile feedlots. The BLM claims they look and feel like meadows of soft grass and fresh food but that is their propaganda for the misinformed. They are indeed holding pens in the slaughter pipeline for most burros and horses that enter them.

The premise for these roundups is ‘overpopulation’ which has never been proven because it does not exist. Another false reason for removing burros is the claim they damage the land. This false narrative is fostered by ranchers and touted by the ethically challenged BLM. In truth herbivores are a great benefit to the land and help restore it while cattle are the ones who do the destroying. Their heavy bodies trounce the landscape even killing endangered wildflowers and plants with their weight. Both excuses are really code for too many burros, horses and wolves on the public land the ranchers want to use basically for free to graze their cows and sheep. Behind them are the oil, gas and mineral companies ready to swoop in and lay claim to the public’s land they have private plans for.

While there are dozens of non profits focused on wild horses the burros are often left in the dust. Very few photographers take their pictures preferring instead to focus on the famous and photogenic horses from certain herds. Looking at baby burros it’s hard to imagine anything cuter or more worthy of their own place in wildlife photography. Because so many are focused on the horses there isn’t as much known about the lives and obstacles the burros face. This failure to include them in the fight to save wild horses means that most fall through the cracks.

The only time I ever saw wild burros was in Custer State Park in South Dakota back in 1995. I was thrilled to see five playing and exploring together. In all my years out west I never once saw another wild burro. It was clear 30 years ago the BLM, ranchers and government at large were lying about the over population and damage they did. Every trip out west I saw countless cows and sheep but wild equines were nowhere to be found.

We know they are abused as much as horses during roundups by helicopters. Often beaten and kicked by cowboy wranglers made millionaires by the US government. When is comes to wildlife, crime really does pay especially if you have a government contract. Despite their smaller stature and their ability to make wonderful pets very few ever find a safe loving home once pulled from their home on the range. Most burros end up in the slaughter pipeline alongside their horse cousins destined for a brutal end in their tragic story of life on the range. Click here to share what really goes on when the press leaves.

Don’t let the atrocities that your tax dollars pay for stay hidden by the BLM, Cattoor Livestock (owned by Dave and Sue Cattoor, in 1992 Dave was indicted on federal charges for shooting and killing wild horses via a helicopter and he’s a known friendly to kill buyers. Their son Troy was said to have been caught on tape stomping a wild burro to death), Sun J and Sampson Livestock. You know what they say about animal abusers right? The connection between animal abuse and human abuse such as child abuse, molestation, pedophiles, wife beating, murder is well known to be over 90%. Both the FBI and National Sheriffs Association consider it to be a big indictor of violent crime yet if these abusers get a government contractor they get millions instead of prison.

Typical roundup where burros and horses, including foals, are hit with helicopters

The American Horse Defense Fund obtained a 2007 Wild Horse & Burro Capture Status Report by filing a Freedom of Information Act request. The report showed that 12% of the burros rounded up in March of 2007 were dead within six months of the gather, as opposed to the low ball figure of 1-2% the corrupted BLM claims. They lie because the real number of deaths would not sit well with the misinformed public. To read more about the type of people the government hires and their mentality click here

In 1981 The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a case against the U.S. Navy. In March 1981 they had shot and killed more than 600 wild burros at their Weapons Testing Center in China Lake, California after herding them via loud helicopters. They had plans to shoot another 5,000 burros on successive weekends. They could have relocated the burros, as groups have done in the past. They chose to hire sharpshooters to gun them down because it was ‘cheaper’. Perhaps the thrill of the hunt was really the driving force in their barbaric decision.

As reported in The New York Times ''The Navy has said there was a problem up there for years,'' Mr. Amory said. ''Now, in the middle of the night, or on a Sunday, or whatever, they go off and kill 381 burros. It is a ghastly thing for them to have done.'' Mr. Amory's organization, Fund for Animals, recently completed a burro relocation program that rescued hundreds of burros from Arizona's Grand Canyon. Mr. Payne, Navy spokesman, said that the Navy had chosen the extermination program rather than relocation for economic reasons and had seen ''no particular reason'' to announce the impending kill.

In 2009 The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign 'was able to obtain a single photo slipped through by a concerned citizen revealing yet another accounting of brutal round up practices in their shocking expose, “Death of a Mojave Burro”. Here, an eyewitness exposed how yet another lone burro was run for miles via helicopter until it collapsed. If this weren’t enough, contractors then proceeded to jump up and down on the helpless burros rib cage and belly, grabbed its ears and repeatedly slammed its head into the ground until, finally satisfied, walked away to leave the burro to die a long and agonizing death.'

Click here to read more about burro roundups

Donkeys, the domestic cousin of the wild burros, don’t fare any better. They are routinely abused as a cheap form of transport. The maximum weight a donkey should be carrying is about 120lbs but most often they are forced to carry two or three times that. We’ve all seen the outrageous photos of collapsed donkeys and mules carrying what appears to be the size of a house. This clearly shows a lack of concern for the animals these farmers, miners and tour guides depend on. They literally make money off their backs. This is a systemic global crisis.

Farmers in Ethiopia use donkeys to carry what should be hauled by a vehicle

This donkey is made to carry dozens of bricks in India. Photo: the Donkey Sanctuary

Unlike their cousins the horses, most of the wild burros rounded up do not get adopted. There are very few sanctuaries that will take them, even fewer people willing to adopt them. This means the vast majority are sold at auction and end up being killed. Some are killed for their meat but most are sent to China for the Ejiao (donkey skin) trade. It’s estimated that this trade uses between 5,000,000 and 10,000,000 donkey skins every year. China’s high demand for donkey hides has caused their population to fall by 76% since 1992. This means China is turning their focus to the global imports to fill the gap. This threatens not only the world’s domestic donkey population but the wild burros as well.

A growing concern is their slow rate of reproduction since a donkey mare will carry a foal for a year and they’re very slow to reach maturity. Stress from captivity lowers their fertility rates making it harder to keep up with the global demand using captive breeding. This means China will look elsewhere to fill the loss and that means wild burros are at risk. We know the US government ships burros to China to fill that need but how many exactly is unknown since no one involved can be trusted to give accurate numbers.

No one really knows how many American wild burros end up in the Chinese market because the BLM lies about how many burros live on the range, how many they roundup and how many get adopted. The only truth we do know is most of our wild burros meet a fate that would make most people shudder. They first endure abuse at the hands of violent wranglers. If they survive that a long journey awaits them with little to no food and water since animals destined for slaughter are not deemed worthy of essentials by those in animal killing industries.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) calls for the use of Ejiao or donkey skin. After they kill the donkey they boil the skin to make a hard gelatin substance which is used in variety of products from tonics to food and face creams. TCM goes back thousands of years and is known to have some pretty gruesome and controversial uses involving such species as tiger (bone), rhino (horn) and dog (genitals). A global outcry regarding the use of endangered species has barely slowed down the practice. As more and more companies move overseas and trade with China their growing middle class has been able to buy what used to be off limits to them. This includes Ejiao along with shark fin soup and ivory. We know that animals in the fur trade are usually skinned alive so it’s likely this is another gruesome part of the Ejiao trade.

We have seen how the ivory trade has all but caused extinction in elephants and many fear the same for both wild and domestic burros. After China and Hong Kong the US is the third largest importer of Ejiao and that market is growing. As trade with China continues to grow so too will the threat to our wild and domestic burros since more Chinese will now have greater spending power.

In 2019 The Donkey Sanctuary did an extensive report exposing this industry. Keep in mind this was done two years ago and things are much worse now. Copy & paste


Right off the internet

Recently a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to try and stop the further exploitation of our burros. The bill - Ejiao Act (H.R. 5203), To prohibit the sale or transport of ejiao made using donkey skin in interstate or foreign commerce, needs more sponsors if it’s going to pass and become law. It won’t stop the illegal trade but it will slow it down and educate the public to not buy products made from burros. As you can see our wild and domestic burros are in real trouble. They are losing their home their freedom and their safety net from pain and human exploitation. Let’s try to save the ones we still have before they are all rounded up and killed. Once they're gone.....they're gone forever from the landscape.

If you would like to help save our burros from this cruel trade and to stop them from being rounded up by the BLM please find/contact your federal reps by clicking here &

To help save our burros and donkeys click here:

Skydog Ranch & Sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary

TMR Rescue

**Peace Valley Donkey Rescue - there seems to be a question about their deals with the USDA Forest Service and the National Park Service so best to be wary

To learn more about the plight of our burros click here

To learn more about the Ejiao trade click here

Also published on Straight from the horse's heart on November 16, 2022

Also published on The animals voice on November 16, 2022

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