warm springs herd
One of the most exciting and ambitious projects we ever took on was to save the only herd of wild donkeys in the state of Oregon.
When the Warm Springs herd of mustangs was rounded up we spent quite a bit of time at the corrals as the BLM asked us to take some injured and orphaned foals, so we were there during the roundup. During one of those visits I saw a few donkeys come in and they were being unloaded in the pens. I actually didn't know there were burros in Oregon and it started me down the most incredible journey.
I happened to look at the BLM numbers for wild horse and donkey herds in Oregon as I was writing posts about the horses. I noticed that the number listed by the BLM for donkeys in 2018 was 49 and I saw that the final number of donkeys rounded up in the fall was 41. I was amazed and saddened that so many of the only remaining donkeys in the state had been removed and that there was no intention of turning any back out. If these were any other animals like mountain lions or bobcats they would be managed to build up the numbers, not removed in this way. According to the equine geneticist Gus Cothran of Texas A & M College of Veterinary Medicine a herd needs 150-200 wild horses or burros to maintain genetic viability and yet the AML for this donkey herd is being managed at low AML of 25 and the horses at 96.
Looking at the herd of burros it appeared as though there was a degree of in-breeding. I am not a geneticist but the experts I have spoken to seem to agree. Many of these burros don't have tails and lots have short stumpy ears, or one ear shorter than the other, many share the same double line on their back from their dorsal stripe which is also unusual. These burros are amazing, for desert animals to have adapted and be thriving up here in the winter colds is remarkable. These guys need a medal not their freedom taken away and I believe should be studied and observed to find out more about them.
So then began a quest on our part to fight for these remarkable donkeys to be put back out on the land they were born on. This HMA is huge and it would essentially equate to 1 burro per 17,000 acres at current numbers which is crazy. This land can obviously support them, they are extraordinary animals which drink less water than horses and can go longer periods without water. I couldn't see a good reason for them to be removed and thought others would agree. I took a meeting with the person in charge and made all the arguments I could for some being put back on the range. But sadly the answer was no. It broke my heart that nobody seemed to see the value in these beautiful donkeys - their beauty, resilience, majesty and sweetness.
On the NEPA it said that there would be an aerial count in the spring to confirm that there are indeed 30 donkeys still out there as the BLM claim. Sadly, if there turns out not to be, all the boys have now been gelded so it may be too late.
SO the donkeys weren't going to be released and they were now being processed to be adopted out. Split up, families separated, all to go their own different ways - so we offered to take the whole herd. All 41 donkeys. To keep them together, to study them and preserve them, but I was told I had to go through the adoption process like everyone else. So we did our best. The staff at the corrals were so helpful and went out of their way to work with us and it is incredibly much appreciated. We couldn't have done this without their help and a lot of paperwork.
We were lucky enough to have had some beautiful photographs taken by Carol Walker at Living Images who went out to Warm Springs last summer. And Steve Paige from American Wild Horse Campaign kindly let us use some of the photographs he took at the roundup to identify family groups. (Burros don't do well at roundups because unlike horses they don't run when chased by the helicopters so they can't be run into traps, because of that they have to be roped which is unfortunate.) These photos were vital in helping us match groups and families and we also spent a lot of time at the corrals looking at bonded pairs and at mothers who seemed particularly attached to their babies, as well as choosing donkeys who seemed genetically unique and special.
And so operation "Save the Warm Springs Burros" was launched and we travelled to the corrals to pick up ten of the donkeys. Three mamas with their babies still at their sides. And four handsome boys who have already been gelded but are older and less adoptable. We have also offered to take any donkeys who don't get adopted so they too can be part of the study. We still would love to take them. For anyone who adopts one and later on wants to re-home them, they are forever welcome here.
We have done what we can and this is a unique mission for us. We see this as less of a rescue than a preservation project and a field study in wild donkeys. We have been speaking to some incredible organizations who are very interested in studying their behaviors in the wild. Familial ties, herd behavior, how far they travel each day, forage and water habits. I am beyond happy to have our herd of Warm Springs donkeys - families reunited, bonded friends together, babies and mamas. We will probably have more babies in the spring when the pregnant Jennies foal.
As with many things, it isn't the end result we had prayed for but it is the next best thing.