Wild Burros: Masters of Adaptation and Survival

By Dave Hanks

As Carolyn and I crossed some of the most desolate country in north-western Nevada, what should come into our view but a most interesting equine – Wild Burros. The habitat around us looked very inhospitable – especially for a large mammal. What do these beasts find to eat? My research indicated that burros can eat almost any type of vegetation, and they can survive desert living as long as there is water within ten miles of their foraging movements. Extremely resilient to drought, they can lose up to 30% of their body weight in water loss without ill effects. Humans that lose 10% of their water weight require hospitalization.

Wild Burros originated in northern Africa. There are two basic types: Nubian and Somalian. The Nubian has a stripe down the center of its back. The other, the Somalian has stripes on its legs. Both may measure 5 feet at the shoulder and the heavy hair covering the inside of the ears gives protection from blowing sand or dust.

The Spaniards introduced burros to North America and it is estimated that there are now about 20,000 running wild. They can be damaging to our western rangelands and must be culled yearly. This is a common problem with introduced species. Almost all introduced species are harmful to native life-forms. In addition, burros have no natural predators and so most young reach adulthood. This, combined with a 25 year life cycle, presents a serious population problem.

These burros didn’t seem concerned with us in the least. They were content to allow us to come close to observe them. In turn, they just stood and observed us.

(A mother and her mostly grown offspring give us the eye)