Wild Burros

Burro is the Spanish and Portuguese word for donkey.

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. The average weight of an adult is 400 pounds with the males (jacks) being slightly larger than the females (jennies).


Burros evolved in the deserts of northern Africa where the average rainfall is about two inches a year. Two populations of burros from northern Africa that were separated from each other by natural barriers are attributed with being the ancestors of today’s feral burro in the American southwest. These are the Nubian and the Somalian. The Nubian’s characteristics are a black stripe across the shoulders and another down the middle of the back giving the appearance of a cross when viewed from above. The Somalian has leg stripes on both front and hind legs resembling a zebra’s markings. These characteristic differences may be seen in the numerous individual burros which freely roam Red Rock Canyon NCA.

The first donkeys came to the Americas on supply ships with the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus, and were landed at Hispaniola in 1495. The first to reach North America may have been two animals taken to Mexico by Juan de Zumárraga, the first bishop of Mexico, in 1528, and who, in 1529, requested that more be sent in order to assist the native people, who had been branded and enslaved by the Conquistadores.

The first donkeys to reach what is now the United States may have crossed the Rio Grande river with Juan de Oñate in April 1598. From that time on they spread northward, finding use in missions and mines. Donkeys were documented as present in what today is Arizona in 1679. By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, the burro was the beast of burden of choice of early prospectors in the western United States. With the end of the placer mining boom, many of them escaped or were abandoned, and a feral population established itself.

Today, feral burros in certain parts of the United States are protected by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. These animals, considered to be a living legacy, are periodically at risk when severe drought conditions prevail. To reduce herd populations and preserve grazing land, the Bureau of Land Management conducts roundups of burro herds, some of which are then sold at public auctions. In February 2010, the estimated numbers of feral burros were: Arizona-2248 California-1069 Nevada-1177 Oregon-15 Utah-164 Total-4673


Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971

The Act declares wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” Under the law, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service manage herds in their respective jurisdictions within areas where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971.

Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.


Wild Burros feed on a variety of of plants including grasses, brush and shrubs. 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. Burros drink at least once each day during the hotter part of the year, but can survive by drinking every second day during the winter and early spring.


Burros have only two natural predators. The mountain lion preys on all burros. The coyote usually preys on the young, very old, crippled or sick animals as nature’s way of maintaining a healthy population. With today’s reduced number of mountain lions, there are few natural predators to check the growth of wild burro populations.

Life Cycle:

Female Burros give birth to one colt each year, which grows to an average weight of about 350 pounds and may live as long as 25 years in the wild.

Posted 2014 Updated 2.15.2014 | © All Images On This Web Site Are Copyrighted