WILD BURROS OF NEVADA
A hike in the desert along one of the many natural streams may reveal a group of wild burros quenching their thirst. Burros are curious by nature and most of the time, if they feel unthreatened, will pose for the camera with their heads high and long ears forward. However, on a few rare occasions, I have been warned by the burros not to come any closer. During a hike at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, I came upon a large group of at least 20 wild burros foraging in an ash grove. As I was preparing my camera, I noticed the herd come to attention and stand their ground, while several began to make snorting sounds. I slowly turned around and retreated to a different trail. I believe in allowing wildlife their territory and taking photos only when the animal is unaware or gives consent. When I’m tracking wildlife, I will use a long focal length lens, either a Nikon 80-200mm F/2.8, or a Nikon 500mm f/4.0. Both lenses allow animals to be photographed up close and personal without invading their space.
Wild burros are not indigenous to the southwestern desert, but are descendents of the African Wild Ass, which was introduced to the Americas in the 1500’s by the Spaniards. The present day wild burro has inhabited the area and thrived since the 1800’s when they were either turned loose or escaped from miners who used them as pack animals for gold and silver prospecting. The hardy, sure-footed modern day wild burro adapts well to the desert’s arid conditions where sources of digestible food are limited and water is even scarcer.
The ability to locate food in a barren terrain allows the wild burro to sustain its diet on dry foliage in the winter months. During the hot summers, when temperatures average 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the burros find shade along streambeds where vegetation is plentiful. If available, their preferred food sources include native grass, Mormon tea shrubs and Palo Verde leaves. A wild burro can experience a 30 percent loss of water, and then become rehydrated in as little as five minutes.
A wild female burro can give birth to one foal a year, after an eleven-month gestation period. Although birthing can occur anytime during the year, it happens most often from June to July. On average, a wild burro will grow to approximately 400 pounds, reach about half the size of a horse and have a life span of around 25 years.
Because of the low number of natural enemies, populations of burros in the wild have grown to around 10,000. A mountain lion is the only natural predator to mature wild burros, but coyotes have been known to prey on the immature, sick or those too old to defend themselves. Due to their increasing numbers, some agencies consider wild burros to be a nuisance and destructive to the fragile desert environment. Many wildlife biologists blame the wild burros for the decline in a number of native plants and animals, including the Bighorn Sheep.
Wild burros, along with wild horses, are protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. This act mandates the protection, management and control of wild, free-roaming burros and horses on public lands at population levels that ensure a thriving ecological balance. To keep the population in check, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) places wild burros up for adoption each year through the National Wild Horse and Burro Program.
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