Many people ask what is the difference between a donkey and a burro. Burros, asses and even donkeys are pretty much the same thing. They are all Equus asinus.
"Burro" is just the Spanish word for "donkey." Some people make a distinction between the descendents of donkeys introduced into the Americas by the Spanish in the 1500s which they call burros, and donkeys introduced directly from Europe, which they call donkeys. Even people making a distinction between burros and donkeys appear to agree that both, being of the species "asinus," are asses. Jackasses are just "jack asses," or "male asses."
We would however make a distinction between Burros and donkeys, wild and domestic. Burros that have been born and lived in the wild have become incredibly hardy, resourceful, intuitive and are true survivors. They are able to live on very little, with little water and in some states manage to make it through bitter winters digging for food in the deep snow. Considering they are dessert animals this goes a long way to demonstrating their unique development for different environments.
The wild burro is a class of small donkeys with an adult weight ranging between 50 and 186 kilograms (110 and 410 pounds), with a height at the shoulders of around 3 to 4 feet. These animals possess long ears and have a short mane, and their coat colors range from black to brown to grey. The average weight of male burros is 122 kilograms (269 pounds), with that of females being 112 kilograms (247 pounds).
Burros in the U.S.A. tend to be taller and stockier than their counterparts found in Mexico and Central America. Burros are extremely sure-footed, and are able to carry heavy burdens for days on end amidst harsh, arid environments.
Throughout most of the year, wild burros forage throughout the day. During the heat of summer, however, they will usually forage at late evening and early in the morning. These animals are able to survive by feeding on native grasses and forbs, and by browsing on woody plants. They will feed on a wide variety of plant species, including Plantain, Mormon Tea, and Palo Verde. Even though their plant diet supplies a certain amount of water, they also need supplemental water supplies to stay adequately hydrated. They usually select habitats with water bodies within 10 miles of their territories. These hardy animals can survive water losses of as much as 30% of their body weight, and are able to replenish such major losses by way of frenetic drinking episodes in as little as 5 minutes.
Habitat and Range
Burros originated in North Africa, and were introduced into the New World by the newly arrived Spaniards in the 1500s. These animals are often sighted in the deserts of North America today, such as those in the U.S. state of California, where their habitat extends as far east as Lassen County and as far south as Mono County, and stretches further down into and across the border with Mexico. Populations of burros have been also observed in other arid areas of the U.S.A, Mexico, and some central American countries. Burros thrive in habitats with vegetation like alkali desert scrubs, sagebrush, Joshua trees, montane chaparrals, and semi-arid pasturelands. Wildlife biologists believe that the rapid proliferation of the wild burro population poses a potential threat for such native animals as the Bighorn Sheep, who share their habitats and native plants for browsing and grazing with wild burros.
Wild burros are active throughout the year, and are primarily diurnal in nature throughout much of it. In summer, they migrate to riparian areas with smaller home ranges than during other seasons. Their home ranges usually vary between 5 and 70 square kilometers. Males and females have overlapping territories, and males may exhibit territoriality during mating periods in order to access and claim female partners. Unlike wild horses, wild burros do not form family groups, though they may form loosely knit groups whose members temporarily interact to some degree socially. Members of such groups might graze together for a single afternoon, or even for several days, but will finally separate and move on alone. A female and her young one form the strongest social bonds, which might last up to two years in some cases, until they are mature enough to head out on their own.
Wild burros mate all year long, but their peak mating season runs from May through July. The gestation period of these animals lasts roughly 12 months. Hence, a peak in birth rates occurs during the roughly the same period as peak breeding, between May and July as well. Females produce one colt each year, and usually reproduce in alternate years, since breeding and birthing typically occur around the same time. Since the wild burros lack natural predators or competitors within their harsh desert habitat ranges, they can usually survive to live relatively long lives for feral animals. Many colts live to attain sexual maturity, and have a good chance to live as long as their expected lifespans in the wild, which are around 25 years.
(credit World Atlas - animals of North America)
SOME INCREDIBLE FACTS ABOUT BURROS
Domestic donkeys can live for over 50 years — in the wild they live from 25-30 years.
Burros are very strong and intelligent — a burro is stronger than a horse of the same size.
Donkeys have an incredible memory — they can recognize areas and other donkeys they were with up to 25 years ago.
Burros are not easily startled (unlike horses) and have a keen sense of curiosity.
They have a reputation for stubbornness but this is due to their highly developed sense of self preservation. It is difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it sees as contrary to its own best interest or safety. This is why they don’t do well during roundups and most often have to be roped from the back of a horse and taken to the trap.
Donkeys are more independent in their thinking than horses and will reason, then make decisions based on their safety.
Donkeys originate from desert areas of the earth. In the desert environment a donkey is able to hear the call of another donkey 60 miles away, They have far larger ears than horses. Their large ears also help keep them cool.
Because food is scarce in the desert, donkeys utilize 95% of what they eat which means their manure is not a very good fertilizer for land. Their digestive system can break down inedible vegetation and extract moisture from food more efficiently.
They don’t like the rain and being out in it for long periods can damage their health as their fur is not waterproof.
BLM Herd management areas which include wild burros
All of the Arizona HMA’s include wild burros and this is the biggest area that you can find wild donkeys living wild in the Western United States. The town of Oatman AZ has become famous for its wild donkey population who actually reside in the town and have become quite a tourist attraction.
In Oregon there are donkeys on the Warm Springs HMA only.
In California there are donkeys on the Centennial HMA, Twin Peaks, Chemehuevi, Chocolate Mule Mountains, Lee Flat and the Waucoba-Hunter Mountains and the other wild donkey herds are in Nevada. There is also a small herd in Utah in the Muddy Creek and Sinbad HMA.
These wild donkeys are overlooked and not advocated for near as much as the wild horse herds but we would love the numbers raised on the existing smaller AML’s to reflect a healthy genetic diversity moving forward.
There seems to be a perception that feral donkeys can breed out of control but in the USA this cannot be said about most wild herds. The image of the common donkey being a beast of burden and used as a work animals for centuries does nothing to promote them as the asset to the environment that they are. They are culturally and historically important and wonderful animals.
The value of these animals should be more widely appreciated and a better relationship forged between human and donkey.
We at Skydog Sanctuary love our wild (and rescued domestic), donkeys - burros - asses - call them what you will. We call them important.
WORLDWIDE CRISIS FOR ALL DONKEYS - WILD AND DOMESTIC
Millions of donkeys are being killed and their skins sold to China for use in traditional medicine. Demand for donkey hide, which is boiled to produce gelatine – the key ingredient in a medicine called ejiao – has raised the price and the rate of slaughter of the animals. Ejiao can sell for up to £300 per kilo and is used as a blood tonic in Chinese medicine.
Many things associated with Chinese medicine usually have alternatives. With donkey hide, for example, you could use other animal forms of gelatine such as from beef, pork or chicken. For vegetarians, seaweed can be used.
The demand for donkey hide is outstripping supply. Around 1.8m donkey hides are traded per year, while global demand is estimated between 4 to 10m skins. Can you even comprehend that number of donkeys. This is decimating the donkey population of the world and causing a massive decline in their numbers. As well as it being horrifically cruel, inhumane and unnecessary.
SKYDOG DONKEYS - THEN AND NOW
Vinnie was the very very first animal we rescued and have never looked back since. My first date with my husband Chris was to a sanctuary in Simi Valley to look at a donkey they were advertising. I had wanted a donkey to keep Elvis company as all the mustangs had formed a herd and wouldn't let him in. We fell in love with Vinnie and Chris made a donation to the sanctuary and the next day they emailed us to say that they had saved three horses at auction thanks to his donation. It was the first time I found out about horse auctions and horse slaughter and it started us down a road of saving other horses and eventually to opening Skydog Sanctuary......all thanks to this little donkey.
Vinnie is a flashy red roan donkey with the fluffiest face and Elvis like mutton chops that never disappear even in the height of summer. We love him x
FRANKIE AND JOHNNy
MAMA AND BABY DONKS
We found Frankie and Johnny in a kill pen in Texas. The photograph of the mother donkey gazing at her week-old baby broke our hearts. The pride shone out of her eyes as she looked at him and as we were saving a mustang from the same kill pen (LOVE) we decided to help them out too. We had them all taken to Reata Equine Hospital and sadly mama and baby were very sick. They spent over two months in the hospital with pneumonia and many other respiratory diseases. Eventually they were ready to leave and came to Malibu where they were loved on by everyone including some pretty amazing VIP's. They now live at Oregon Skydog x
our MINI HINNY
Cassidy was spotted in a kill pen in Waco Texas when we were rescuing LOVE. He was standing there in the photo looking so so lost and scared so that was that. We had some reports of him before he got here about his kicking the vet when she took blood for coggins and he dragged the hauler down the steps at a run as he tried desperately to hold on to his halter. But we wouldn't trade him for the world. He is just the funniest, smartest, cheekiest, silliest boy and thinks he is a wild stallion mustang. When there is danger spotted he leads the herd of horses ten times his size. He is fearless and has the heart of a lion and oh he is super cute too.
ZZ the Zonkey
ZZ isn't a mustang but he is so loved by all the staff and volunteers at Skydog. He was saved from shipping to a kill ranch in Texas - places where people pay money to go and shoot exotic animals. For fun. Or Sport. Not the kind of fun we have here. The only shooting we do here is with a camera lens and it is glorious to see ZZ in all his glory running around up and down hills. He is a bit of a jerk, he runs horses twice his size off feed, and if they won't move he turns and kicks more times per second than anything I have ever seen. But he never seems to land one - it is just for show.
He is all bluff and bluster and we call him the hooligan but he is a fantastic horse exerciser as he has the energy of a dog and never stops chasing and running. He is halter broke and I have even seen video of him being ridden but those days are over and he is free to live out his life here.
lady betty & Boop
ANOTHER MOMMA & BABY
When we were rescuing Swayze and Priscilla from a killpen in Colorado I kept noticing that in every photo of them there was a little pair of hooves, or two long ears, or a donkey’s ass. And finally I called the lot and asked them if there were any donkeys and they said there was an older Jenny and a miniature John. Well these must have been the most clever donkeys in the world as this lot didn’t advertise the donkeys - so I guess these two were like “stand with the horses”. And that is how we spotted them.
SO a Skydog Tradition of saving a donkey who needed out began.
That was a rough haul. Swayze went down in the trailer and had to see a vet and these two donkeys were together in the lot, in the trailer and finally in the barn when they arrived with us for just a couple of days. Tyler was tiny and Lady Betty looked 100 years old and to tell you the truth I didn’t really think it was physically possible for them to “get together”. BUT our vet told me later, where there’s a will there’s a way, and 12 months later, almost to the day, along came Baby Boop. You live and learn and mistakes happen. But what a gorgeous, fluffy, adorable and welcome addition to our herd she was. Oh Boop, I still to this day don’t understand what hill your papa climbed up on to make you happen but thank goodness he did xxx
PAULIE, RED AND ROSIE
These three gorgeous formerly wild donkeys were found at a livestock auction in California about to be bought by the kill buyer that frequents the place looking for cheap horses and donkeys to sell. People don't eat donkeys but their hides have become in great demand particularly in China where they have been importing millions of donkeys annually to slaughter.
Paulie, Red and Rose are not wild but not tame either. They are friendly enough except when you try to catch them but they let you pet on them and will eat out of your hand. The two girls, Rosie and Red, have BLM brands and Paulie isn't branded but may well be the son of one of the Jenny's as they are very bonded. We adore our snow donkeys and they are hardier and stronger and do better in the winter temperatures than some of the other domestic ones we have saved. Born to be wild. And now they are x
…A few weeks after we rescued the three BLM donkeys, another branded BLM donkey landed at the same auction. I thought she must be from the same group and we saved her and brought her home. When she finished quarantine and we introduced them they had quite obviously never met. But after months of persistent requests to join the herd they let her in. Possibly one of the saddest before photos ever taken. Such a sad, scared, upset and bewildered donkey. And now she is the cutest, friendliest and most affectionate girl. Truly one of my favorites. If such a thing is allowed xx
Looking good Roxy girl. You’ve come a long way baby ::)
Well Tyler was the other donkey we saved with Lady Betty from the kill pen in Colorado and he’s the father of little Boop. This photo is all I saw of him but who on earth could say no to that face. He was always friendly from the day he arrived and he went to stay at Bend Equine within a few days of arriving to be gelded and all the girls there fell in love with him. He gets chubby in the summer so we have to take him off the grass when it greens up. Otherwise he would really have Dad bod. Nothing is better than a cuddle from Tyler x
He now lives out with the entire herd and luckily has lost a lot of weight running the hills with his herd. Tyler, Lady Betty and Little Boop. Our love for donkeys is complete.
We had the haul arranged and paid for and suddenly up popped this little boy. He looked sad, lost and we had room. What are you going to do? Take him that’s what. And thank God we did. Within a day or so he looked a little sickly so our amazing hauler stopped at a vet hospital and we caught his pneumonia just in time. He has been at the hospital for a couple of weeks and will be back to Malibu soon. Keep a look out for this wonderful boy’s new life to begin x
Joe Pesci. Thank you for fighting and for hanging in to live another day here at Skydog. Clever little boy didn’t want to go to Oregon and be part of a herd. He wanted to come to Skydog Malibu and be a movie star donkey. I have a feeling this boy will win a lot of hearts in Southern California x
al pacino & robert deniro
Well you can pat yourselves on the back for this save. When we said yes to taking Redford and Eastwood you all rallied to ask us to take a donkey who was the only one listed on the same page at the lot. We called to pay for him and they told us there was actually another one who had been paid for but nobody had come to pick up. WHAAAT. So we collected up these two donkeys and Marlene our hauler said yes to fitting them on board. Hauling donkeys in the dead of winter out of a killpen is always a risk. But leaving them means certain death. Either on the lot within days as they suffer greatly and go down quickly from respiratory diseases. OR they get put on to trailers to meet a terrible death in Mexico.
Instead these two jumped on the freedom bus outta there. They still need to be gelded but we are letting them settle before that next step of their lives. We have always named out donkeys after gangsters and these guys are fighting tough - so DeNiro and Pacino welcome to the gang.
bonnie & Clyde
These two angels were rescued at a livestock auction. They were unhandled and shy and fearful. Clyde has remained pretty nervous and doesn’t come close but Bonnie will come grab treats from you if you stay still. We manage to get them both for feet twice a year but the rest of the time we just let them live their own lives with their best friends Anselm and Adeline.
What an adorable pair. They are mini mules which is kind of the same as a mini hinny like cassidy just the other way around. The only difference is whether the boy was a donkey or a horse. We don’t care they are cute either way xxx
BERT & ERNIE
Little Bert and Ernie were first seen by us being dragged through an auction looking sick and tired. We had been in contact with a rescue who were at the auction and they were very worried about this pair as well. So we said to bid on them if they looked as though they were going to a bad place. We picked them up and instantly knew they wouldn’t have long if we didn’t act quickly. We had our vet look at them and then drove them straight to Alamo Pintado for emergency medical help.
Dr. Erin Burns and her team worked tirelessly to keep these little five month old babies alive and bring them back to health. They are now thriving at Skydog Malibu but are available to sponsor together for the same amount as one horse. They are the cutest little munchkins and so full of love and gratitude and are inseparable with Bert’s head nearly always over Ernie’s body for comfort and support.
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 (click on pics to scroll) 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.
Here is more of their journey in video and photographs (click on pics to scroll through), now living wild and free at Skydog Oregon…
These donkeys are beautiful and well worth preserving. There is one Jenny who is hugely tall and has the most regal and stunning features. There is one family of peach and orange colored donkeys. I saw them the day they came in as I took photographs and its beautiful to look out and see them today still together. I truly never knew that they were going to end up here. Come the Spring we are going to turn them all out on a portion of the ranch we can't use for horses and they can go back to living wild in their family groups, back to being burros again.
More than anything I would love it if Oregon realized just how special, hardy, smart and magnificent these burros are and treated them with the respect they deserve. These are your public lands and your donkey herd. I wish we had been able to do better by them.
When we posted these guys on our Instagram and Patreon it was surprising how many comments indicated that people had no idea there even was such a thing as wild donkeys, so we already feel we have begun our job in raising awareness for them. Donkeys have been such a huge part of our sanctuary from the start that it's been a dream come true to honor this wild herd that are so local to our sanctuary in Oregon. They already seem to recognize and know the land and seem happy to be home - they are comfortable, calm and curious but still beautifully wild the way we want to keep them.