Wild Burros Providing Water for Wildlife

In far-West Texas, a coalition of government agencies, agricultural universities and conservation organizations has decided that wild burros on public lands should be eradicated. The coalition based its decision on the belief that what the burros are doing in the video above harms wildlife – especially Desert Bighon Sheep and Desert Mule Deer – and all habitat. This belief reflects the fundamental disagreement between Big Wildlife and holistic thinkers such as Aldo Leopold over this question: In nature, do species such as burros and wolves compete with or complement other species and the system in general?

Burros like those in the video were eradicated at Big Bend Ranch State Park because, it was said, they spoiled water for other species by digging holes.  Here is the “Rest of the Story” concerning burros and water.

 See also: Circle Ranch Burros from Christopher Gill on Vimeo

Wild burros at Circle Ranch are completely compatible with other animals, including bighorn, whose terrain they avoid.

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  • I had no idea wild burros would dig down like that in a dry creek bed for water. Very interesting video. Looks like those Cattle benefited from their instinctive behavior. Although I guess they’d compete for forage it looks like the benefits of having them out weigh any perceived negative impact.

    • Over and over, ‘competitive’ species turn out to be ‘complimentary’. The complexity of these systems far exceed our ability to understand them. Over and over, eradications of so-called ‘invasive species’ (many of which including burros are natives) wind up harming the specific species they are sincerely meant to protect – and many others we never thought about. My takeaway is that agronomic principles applied to ecological systems will almost always cause harm.

  • Personally, I would be hesitant to eradicate an animal that God himself used to communicate with someone who was in error. See Numbers 21:21ff. Excellent point and video. Thank you for sharing.

  • Wonderful video. Are the burros are getting down to enough water that all these animals are actually able to drink a bit?

    • I cannot say for sure but I think so. For me the major insight from the video is that all of these animals are using this water in ways that increases it for all of the other animals. In other words, these species are “complementary”.

      The mainstream view is that every one of the species “competes”.

      So, there is the take away: are multiple species competitive, or, complementary?

  • Good afternoon Christopher, My name is Karen Gilligan. I am the VP of Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project located in Olancha, CA. A friend of mine told me about your website, especially the video on the burros digging wells of water. You have a wonderful program there at your ranch and a wealth of information on your website. I have taken the liberty of putting the well-digging video on our site. If that is an issue, please let me know and I will take it down. I credited the video as coming from you. You can find out more about our organization on our site. Our president Diana Chontos founded Wild Burro Rescue and has rescued many burros from the Death Valley National Park. Thank you for such informative information and for protecting our wild ones. sincerely, Karen Gilligan, VP Wild Burro Rescue & Preservation Project

  • Dear Karen,

    Thank you for this comment. I did not make the video in question; as far as I am concerned you may use it – and anything else on this blog.

    For more on the context of this research, go here: https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2016/06/05/secret-lives-well-digging-burros/

    In my opinion burros and horses are desirable for the health of Western ranges and its animals. The video illustrates one small aspect of why this is so. After all, burros, horses and other equines – and their ancestors – evolved in North America and were present for many millions of years, until they disappeared about 5,000 years ago as a result of human impact. All our desert plants coevolved with horses and burros. So calling them an ‘exotic’, or saying they invariably harm plants and wild animals, shows how poorly our universities educate their wildlife students.

    I became aware of burro eradications in the Big Bend when Marjorie Farabee asked me to help dissuade Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) from wiping these animals out on the Big Bend Ranch State Park. I did what I could but regret to say that we failed. Advocates of the eradications said that their digging in waterholes harmed water for other species, especially bighorn sheep. The video refutes this belief – the justification for eradicating a small herd long cherished by the local community. TPWD continues to act on the fake science of its invasive species biology. They previously eradicated the wild longhorn and native elk. Their latest attack on biodiversity targets aoudad and feral pigs.

    As a ranch owner I think that our most interesting animals are wild burros. However horse and burro advocates must allow for the humane culling of these wild herds, and drop the widespread hostility to cattle. The cattlemen need to do the same with respect to horses; conservationists need to drop their hostility to both. The answer here is not horses, or cattle, or neither: it is all of the species and many others managed to mimic nature.

    Many thanks, again.

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