Death Valley’s Wild Burros~

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower ’48 consisting of 5,270 mi² of barren, beautiful desert. It holds the world record for the hottest place on earth topping out at 134 F in 2013.

Burros (donkeys) were introduced to the park by gold miners in the 1800’s. Some escaped and wild burros have thrived in the park ever since. Burros dig holes to find water and these holes are often used by other desert creatures. Burros are a food source for resident mountain lions, taking pressure off big horn sheep populations.

Burros are not wanted by The National Park Service in Death Valley.

The front page of the 2019 National Park Summer Visitor Guide says burros are an “invasive species……they stomp around and make a mess…they over browse…..they can be mean and aggressive when defending young….they stand in roads and won’t budge.”

This sounds a lot like some of the human visitors I have seen in national parks over the years. But despite this, the park service has pursued a policy of rounding up wild burros by helicopter and horseback, shipping them off to rescue organizations. “Eliminating wild burros from the park has been the park service goal since 2002,” (Pahrump Valley Times).

Having read about the wild burros, and wanting to see the last remaining ones, I decided to go search for them. I started by asking locals where I could find them. Every local I spoke to told the same basic story, which amounted to, “I haven’t seen them in the park. I have seen them outside the boundaries of park.”

One person even said, “It seems they know they are not wanted in the park, so they tend to stay just outside it.”

Pretty clever critters, huh?

The road to Beatty Nevada, a town of 1010 people, just outside the park came up in lots of conversations as a place where wild burros congregate. So off to Beatty we went.

Sure enough, near the outskirts of town, we started to see signs of burro presence, not stomped up messes, but donkey scat. My husband Jim is a patient person, and he was willing to take all sorts of rocky dirt roads following donkey scat. We had no luck, and were about to give up when Jim decided to drive around the perimeter of town, and there they were! A small herd of eight burros, with one dominant male, three foals, and four females. One female was pregnant. Here was the male being protective when we first saw the herd:

After awhile of distant observation, the burros seemed to decide we were not a threat, and walked slowly over and approached us directly, showing no sign of aggression. Mindful of the park literature, I backed away from them, and retreated to the safety of the car.

This was the burros reaction to my retreat!

A Beatty local resident, observing my caution, walked over and introduced us to the burros.

You can see his hand here.

No one should ever approach wild donkeys. They can be aggressive and dangerous when threatened. But this nice local man showed us their other side as well. They can also be friendly, curious and affectionate.

You can almost see Jim here making friends!

Cheers to you from the beautiful burros of Death Valley~

For further discussion of the burros and park policy see:

https://undark.org/2019/10/14/death-valley-burros-fate/

256 thoughts on “Death Valley’s Wild Burros~

  1. Gosh, the babies are soo cute! Yeah, I can imagine their bite could tear a chunk out of you and I wouldn’t want to think about a well-aimed kick. Best to give them their space.

    • Exactly. These guys kept their distance until they felt we weren’t a threat. The foal and mother walked leisurely over to us, but it took a local resident to get me out of the car!

    • I hadn’t seen either of these posts and I loved both of them! Thank you for sending them to me. I love the town’s embrace of the wild burros. Good for Oatman! They support my impression of these wonderful creatures.

    • I did that when I was six years old. My parents fibbed and said I was seven as that was the cut off age date. I was really uncomfortable that they lied but I remember the experience so clearly.

  2. I truly love furry donkeys, and they are clever critters, thank you Cindy for great collection of photos.
    I also love it when Derrick posts his Donkey photos the little farms in England….

  3. They are so amazingly beautiful. You have given me such pleasure with your photographs. I love every single one of them. So sweet and I like them so much more than the Park Service People. They are the ones who should leave. Thank you for this. <3

  4. Pingback: Death Valley’s Wild Burros~ — (Look at all these truly gorgeous donkeys–Gigi) | Rethinking Life

  5. I hope he made friends, all the donkeys I have encountered have been lovely, but they are used a lot here to defend the farm animals. They can be no nonsense, and very adapt at their jobs.

    • Oh, yes, I know what you mean, which is one of the attractions of having them at The Holler. They broke no nonsense from coyotes! I have seen them deal with them and it is impressive and protective.

  6. ” “Invasive species” They stomp around and make a mess…they over browse…..they can be mean and aggressive when defending young….they stand in roads and won’t budge. We have the same here, Cindy, and they are human’s too!
    Thanks fro thegreat pictures, loved them! X

    • Honestly, when I read this in the “Welcome to the Park,” brochure, I couldn’t believe it was really there. It was such a piece of polarized polemic damning a species based on what data precisely?
      Practially none actually.
      “Invasive species” are a species invasive humans don’t like.
      You are so right.
      I have seen humans exhibit every negative trait they ascribed to these poor burros.
      If humans are going to drive a species out of ecosystem they introduced them to, they need much better data and reasoning.

  7. Oh, Cindy!!! I love those little burrows and can’t understand why the park has no use for them. I wish I had a lot of land to house unwanted animals on. What is wrong with people? They are doing what they need to do to survive. Grrrr. Just gorgeous creatures and I want them.

    • You are just like me. I was quite angry, first when I read the biased propaganda damning the burros put out by the park service, and then I was just dismayed after spending time with them. I can’t imagine demonizing such lovely creatures. I suspect it comes down to money unfortunately. The national park service runs lodges in the park, one in particular is full of gorgeous landscaping with invasive plant species that are seriously water demanding and very expensive to maintain. The burros naturally might like to eat these invasive plant species. This costs the park money to replace. I guess the park service feels comfortable choosing which invasive species are acceptable in the park and which are not.
      Grrrr is right.

  8. How the hell do you stomp around and make a mess in the desert? *eyes rolling*

    My ex and I drove around Death Valley in November 2000. He had relatives in Henderson, NV, and we got out & wandered around. The landscape has a quiet beauty and I was fascinated with the abandoned rail lines there. I didn’t see any burros but, I was told of them.

    They are so cute.

  9. Hey Cindy,

    Perhaps growing up I read too much Winnie-the-Pooh but I can’t look at a donkey without thinking of Eeyore, who always was a little sardonic and gloomy, but whom I adored all the same.

    It seems a shame they are not wanted in the Park when they most probably didn’t want to be there in the first place but have thrived and made it their home. One can only hope they are well-taken care of by the rescue organisations.

    Wonderful photos as always, thank you.

    Enjoy your weekend,

    DN

    • “It seems a shame they are not wanted in the Park when they most probably didn’t want to be there in the first place but have thrived and made it their home.” As usual Dewin, you express yourself beautifully. Thank you.

  10. They are so cute and cuddly. I am glad you have pictures of them with people and with car to give me a sense of how big they are. I thought they are small but with the pictures I can see they are pretty size.

  11. Reminds me of Oatman, Arizona, Cindy, where the kids have ‘no carrot’ stickers on their foreheads since they are too young to process carrots and may choke on them. Cute photos. –Curt

  12. What I gather from your interesting post, Cindy, is that burros are cute and harmless animals. Just because they are considered invasive should not be a reason for expelling them from the park.

  13. Cute little fellows and as you said seem to show more common sense, and restraint with regard to respect for the park that protects and manages what we as visitors are blessed to have and visit at our own free will. The burros seem to know where or when they are wanted, where to reside, yet cautious of their surroundings. Smart burros. 🙂

  14. Very interesting post. I didn’t really know the park service was trying to get them out of the park; I hope they all find hospitable new places to thrive.

  15. Beautiful post, Cindy 😀
    They look very friendly, but like mostly with wild animals, it is better and more secure for us to let them come to us for greetings. Then they decide the speed.

  16. I saw burros like this on St. John’s Island in the Virgin Islands many years ago – and loved them.
    These pictures are awesome, Cindy, and thank you for sharing with us. You and Jim must make a great team!
    They are so smart to stay out of the park. I can’t believe the park relocated them. Very sad.

  17. Animals, including donkeys have a right to live where they live. Many humans are really pissing me off. Who do we think we are? A god?
    What adorable creatures. I’d love a pet donkey, but he/she won’t fit in the apartment. However, Jeep would love one!
    Wonderful post & great shots! TY, Cindy!

  18. How wonderful! I love the burros … I’d probably rather see them in the park than most of the people! You always have a way of bringing us fun and interesting things. Thank you!

  19. They are so cute! May they roam free forever.

    Just a joy to come to this site. One never knows where the journey will take them
    but there is no worry at all about wardrobe. Thanks to this blog I have become a
    world traveler with the best seat in the house. Many thanks!

  20. We’re in need of some expert advice: what do you think is the best time to go to Death Valley? We’re seeking to minimize the number of bipeds that “stomp around and make a mess” and maximize the number of wildflowers. Any advice?

    • Laughing…..I hear you about those pesky bipeds. The park is so huge, you can go off and explore on your own. There are lots of sites to see in addition to the wildflowers. The approaches to the park are stunning too. The dilemma as you seem to know is that bipeds do flock to see the blooms, especially if it is a super bloom year. I wouldn’t let it deter you though because seeing the desert in bloom is an amazing experience. Keep track of rainfall in the months you are thinking of going. If there is rain, there will be flowers. Here are a couple of links that may help you. Best time for bloom:
      https://www.oasisatdeathvalley.com/plan/wildflowers/
      Some top sights to see:
      https://www.planetware.com/california/death-valley-us-ca-dv.htm
      Let me know your impressions. I think you will be impressed!

        • Just don’t go in summer. It is too hot to breathe and move around for us who aren’t used to it. December would be awesome. Honestly, it you want to really explore the park, as much as you want, mostly by yourself, early December would be awesome and comfortable. Later, towards the holidays more people arrive.

  21. What a lovely story. Your persistence really paid of. Great that you experienced the donkeys for yourself, rather than just believing the bad press they’ve been given by the national park literature.

  22. They are very cute and that was an interesting read about your outing to see them, Cindy! I think that if they have been there since the 1800s and are still surviving, they should be allowed there especially since they are not affecting negatively the existence of other animals and even provide a food source for the mountain lions. Well, whether wild or domesticated, I hope they will continue to thrive! 🙂

  23. Aww. They are so cute! Since they are eaten by mountain lions, I think they are probably being kept in check although if the locals are feeding them that will increase their fecundity. There are situations in which removing a non-native species seems a good idea, but in this case I’m not so sure.

  24. What a fascinating photo essay. It’s remarkable that the burros can thrive in such a harsh environment. It doesn’t seem quite right that they’re being labeled an invasive species when man brought them to the park in the first place.

  25. Wild burros might be “mean,” but boy, are they ever cute! They don’t look all that big either. I’m sorry they’re seen as “invasive,” and pesky, when to me, they just look like big stuffed toys, ha!

  26. I couldn’t help ooing and awing over this post! The burros are adorable and what luck you were able to meet up with a local resident to get a closer look at them.

  27. Pingback: Stay On Donkey Time ®

  28. Oh, I love donkeys and burros. I can’t understand why they would be unwelcome in the park. You see them in Red Rock Canyon in Vegas. Beautiful shots and you have captured their fluffiness! When I lived in Scotland there was a lonely horse living in a field but eventually the farmer bought him a donkey. They really enjoyed each other’s company and I cuddled them every day.

    • Thank you Kerry. I am happy for that lonely horse and donkey. Sweet. I have seen wild horses in Red Rock Canyon, but this was my first experience with wild burros and they are wonderful.

  29. Pingback: Death Valley’s Wild Burros~ Cindy Knoke | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  30. I so enjoyed this story of the wild burros, Cindy. I just came from Cumberland Island on the east coast and there is a similar story about the feral horses there. Non-native feral mammals can be a problem in the parks for so many reasons, but still, they are living beings, so it is a delicate situation. I loved that you and your husband set out to find where the burrows have been relocated, and found them. Great story and adorable photos.

  31. I love donkeys – very clever and sensitive beings. I can imagine that the tourists are damaging the Death Valley much more than these animals… The little filly is so enchanting! <3

    • After seeing them in the wild, making their own decisions, and just being so lovely, brings to my mind all the places in the world that I have seen them exploited and abused.

  32. What a sad yet beautiful post Cindy, the Burros played a major part in history in the old gold mining days, sad to see them now recognized as a pest, they are actually a part of Death Valleys history, thanks for an enjoyable informative post.

    • “They are now part of Death Valley’s history….” Thank you my friend. This is exactly how I feel. They are now an integral part of the park and their survival is nothing short of impressive.

  33. So much to enjoy in this post! Background to burros in the park, looking for them, successfully finding burros, excellent photos and a day of discovery. Thank you

  34. Bittersweet post, Cindy. Lovely photos, of course. At what point, I wonder, will humans acknowledge who (more often than not) is the true invasive species.. reaching infestation proportions.
    Great post. Cheers!

  35. OMG…they’re so cute, Cindy! I get they can be aggressive…but most animals will sense the peace a human brings to the communication. What a great experience!
    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!! <3

  36. Thank you for your gentle presence that day and respect for the burros that led to the beautiful gift of these photos. I’m so glad you got the local human to introduce you. =) These photos — from the first — just lit up my heart! Thank you, Cindy. ♥.

  37. Thanks for reading my third letter from Spain, Cindy.
    I saw photographs of a herd of wild burros many years ago and they looked such dear creatures! Thanks again.

  38. Pingback: Death Valley’s Wild Burros~ — – Truth Troubles

  39. We spend 2 days in Death Valley and didn’t see any burros. They are fuzzy for such a warm climate.
    The burros in Custer state park are very friendly, though they are wild animals and I would never approach a mom with a baby.

  40. Reblogged this on ckbooksblog and commented:
    We were in Death Valley for 2 days and didn’t see any. They must hide. The burros in Custer State Park in South Dakota are friendly, pushy too, if you have food, but I’d never approach a mom and baby. I’m not stupid!

  41. They are so cute! I would have thought they’d been a part of the ecology of the area for long enough to earn the right to remain, but perhaps there is a good reason for removing them that the authorities know about? I’m trying to be fair here, in the knowledge that some invasive species (like the grey squirrel in the UK, or stoats in NZ) really would be better off removed if we want native species to survive.
    Mind you if they are still around the outside of the park, clearing them out probably isn’t doing much good for the local wildlife, if that’s the intention.

  42. Such adorable creatures, it is sad that they are no longer wanted. By now I would think that they should be considered as an established part of the natural environment. Lovely photos.

  43. Lovely, clever, sensitive Creatures <3 They have been used, and abused, so much by humans, for such long time! …and now they are to much often forgotten 🙁 … Beautiul Photos! <3 🙂

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