Photo Above By Jim Schnepel of Wild Horses of America Foundation
Wild burros have the same rich history and are as culturally significant as wild horses, but they receive far less attention. AWHC started Burro Awareness Month to promote awareness and appreciation for these amazing and unique residents of the American Southwest.
America’s burros are protected under federal law, but they are in crisis due to government mismanagement which has caused dwindling numbers, lack of genetic diversity and inbreeding. AWHC's goal is to keep wild burros wild and free on the range through humane management programs and initiatives to ensure healthy populations of wild burros living on our public lands.
Nationally, fewer than 11,000 burros are estimated to remain on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands in five western states. These agencies have historically managed burros by rounding them up with helicopters and removing large numbers of them from the range.
Most of the remaining burro populations are too small to remain genetically viable. In June 2013, the National Academy of Sciences conducted a review of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program and noted, “The burro population is more fragmented than the horse population,” and warned that ““removing burros permanently from the range could jeopardize the genetic health of the total population.”
Burros are a member of the horse family, Equidae. Originally from Africa, they were introduced to the Desert Southwest by the Spaniards in the 1500’s. (The word “burro” is derived from the Spanish word “borrico,” meaning donkey.) Today, most of America’s wild burros reside in Arizona, where they have been present since 1679, when Jesuit priest Padre Eusebion Kino brought them to the Spanish mission at San Xavier del Bac near what is now Tucson.
Burros accompanied explorers and pioneers on their treks throughout the West, surviving even when the harsh conditions claimed the lives of their human “owners.” By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, burros were used primarily in the Southwest as pack animals for prospectors. They worked tirelessly to carry supplies, ore, water and machinery to mining camps, and became indispensable to the workers. At the end of the mining boom many of them escaped or were turned loose, and with their innate ability to survive under the harshest conditions, wild herds eventually formed and flourished.
Wild burros are equally protected under the unanimously passed Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” that “enrich the lives of the American people.”