Pack burro on PIke’s Peak, Colorado, circa 1891. Photo by JG Hiestand.

“Beasts of Burden: Feral Burros in the American Southwest”

The Historical Animal, edited by Susan Nance (Syracuse University Press, 2017): 38-53

Everyone knows that thousands of majestic mustangs roam the American West, but relatively few people seem to realize or care that thousands of burros (donkeys) roam the West as well. This chapter describes the roller-coaster history of America’s burros, from their arrival alongside Spanish explorers, their population explosion during mineral booms, their replacement by automobiles, and their subsequent feralization into the desert wastelands, where they thrived in the absence of humans. In 1971, Congress acknowledged America’s historical debt to the humble burro, making it a federal crime to harm the animals. Since then, there have been a number of high-profile episodes that highlight the challenges associated with managing a federally protected population that many people consider to be an invasive species. The chapter draws comparisons between events at Grand Canyon National Park, where activists airlifted hundreds of burros to safety, with events at nearby China Lake Naval Weapons Center, where military personnel gunned down hundreds of burros around the exact same time. Finally, the chapter closes with an appeal to honor our promise to America’s feral burros.