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By helicopter & horseback, officials round up dozens of wild burros

CIBOLA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE – The whirring of helicopter blades faded in and out of the wind along a high ridge, growing almost imperceptibly louder as several minutes passed.

Suddenly a pack of nearly a dozen burros bolted into sight and down a hill, with the helicopter now visible and in close pursuit.

The burro gather had begun.

The effort, which was organized by the Bureau of Land Management, was the first of its kind in this western Arizona refuge since 2002. A contractor rounded up 100 burros to reduce an overpopulated herd that is trampling the landscape and endangering native wildlife and plants.

Biologists have determined that this 600,000-acre refuge can support 165 wild burros, but the herd had grown to nearly four times that.

"They'll eat the bark off the trees," said Dorothea Boothe, a BLM spokeswoman. "There's just not enough food here to sustain a herd of this size."

Tuesday's gather attracted nearly two dozen spectators, who congregated at 6:30 a.m. outside a gas station across the Colorado River in Palo Verde, Calif. Most were representatives of the BLM or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, though others were simply there to watch the spectacle.

"I'm here because I'm concerned about the burros," said Annie Mond, a self-described animal rights advocate. "I've never been to a gather, but I've heard of burros dying during them before."

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By 10 a.m., the group had moved to a designated viewing area in the refuge, where they watched the helicopter take off and disappear over the edge of the mountainous landscape.

It reappeared about 15 minutes later, herding a small pack of burros from above. Riders on horseback emerged from concealed locations, using the hilly terrain to funnel the burros toward a corral.

By the time the dust had settled, several burros stood uneasily in the corral.

Lori Cook, another BLM spokeswoman, smiled as she looked down from the ridge.

"That was surprisingly easy, don't you think?" Cook said. "Usually it's pretty tough to round up burros. They're not like wild horses; they all have their own personalities, and like to do their own thing when they're being chased."

These burros were headed for the BLM's facility in Ridgecrest, Calif., to be prepared for adoption. Asked why someone would adopt a burro, BLM spokesman Tom Gorey offered several reasons.

"Well for starters, they're adorable," Gorey said. "They're good companion animals, they're also good pack animals, you can even use them as guard dogs. They'd be useful on pretty much any ranch."

Burros were first introduced to the region in the mid-19th century by miners and settlers who valued the animals for their durability. In the years that followed, Arizona's burro population increased exponentially, and today there are more wild burros in Arizona than any other state.

The growth of the burro herd in the Cibola refuge has gone largely unchecked since the last gather, in part because burros have no natural predators. Data from past gathers suggests that the herd size grows by about 15 percent each year; at this rate the herd will double in population in five years.

To ensure that the burros were gathered as humanely as possible, the BLM adhered to several stipulations. The operation would be suspended if the temperature reached 105 degrees, for example, and the helicopter pilot couldn't pressure the burros into running faster than 10 mph.

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"I was expecting trauma," said Mond, the animal rights advocate, as her first day of observing a burro gather drew to a close. "But I didn't see anything like that. I think we're all happy about that."

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have your say   

3 comments on this story

Oct 2, 2010, 2:14 am
-0 +0

Oh yeah.

Ever think about crowd-sourcing headlines? ;-)

Oct 1, 2010, 10:10 pm
-0 +0

Roberto De Vido wrote:

You’re gonna drive a LOT more traffic is you learn to substitute “asses” for “burros”.

Yeah, we missed out on some SEO with this story, didn’t we?

Oct 1, 2010, 7:08 pm
-0 +0

You’re gonna drive a LOT more traffic is you learn to substitute “asses” for “burros”.

Sorry, we missed your input...

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Grant Martin/Cronkite News Service

Burros wait in a corral after being herded out of the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge in western Arizona. The Bureau of Land Management, which organized the roundup, said the refuge had four times as many wild burros as it could support.

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Facts about Arizona's wild burros

  • Burros were first brought to the region in 1679 by Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino, who wanted them at his mission in what is now southern Arizona.
  • Burros, which proved well suited to the desert, were used as pack animals by prospectors in the mid-19th century. Many were turned loose.
  • Today there are over 2,000 wild burros in Arizona, more than in any other state.
  • An adult burro can eat 6,000 pounds of vegetation and drink 2,000 gallons of water in one year.
  • Male burros are referred to as jacks; females are called jennys.