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:

256 thoughts on “Death Valley’s Wild Burros~

  1. 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!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 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!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. 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:
      Some top sights to see:
      Let me know your impressions. I think you will be impressed!

      Liked by 1 person

        • 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.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. 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.


  5. 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! 🙂


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. 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!


  9. Pingback: Stay On Donkey Time ®

  10. 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.


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

  12. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. 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!! ❤


  15. 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. ♥.


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

  17. 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.


  18. 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!


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