“He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1995:
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK–– National Park Service rangers have
killed 400 wild burros in Death Valley since 1987, but through the intervention of Wild
Burro Rescue, the 1995 quota is zero. It will stay zero for as many years as WBR is able to
rescue the number of burros the NPS would otherwise shoot to prevent ecological damage.
“I got shingles,” said WBR co-founder Gene Chontos, “but we did it,” raising
$23,000 between reaching a deal with the NPS last December and commencing the rescue
on March 18––and then rounding up 20 burros with the help of six mounted wranglers and a
rented helicopter. The team caught 19 burros the first day, with difficulty.
“The jacks really hurt the horses,” Chontos explained. “They ran the horses to
exhaustion, after being chased five miles by the helicopter. We had to work the horses in
relays.” The first day’s work cost $17,000. Catching the last burro WBR was obligated to
take took another day and $3,000. Desert resident Martha Bennett then provided corral
space for the burros while Chontos arranged for transport and placement. Some prior
arrangements fell through, forcing Chontos to take 12 burros back to the WBR headquarters
in Onalaska, Washington––four more than planned. Unable to find a used trailer big
enough, Chontos “paid $9,000 for an $11,000 horse trailer in Las Vegas,” he continued.
“That wiped out our operating budget for the year, and we still have burros to feed and
fundraising to do so we can do it all over again next year. We tapped out everybody with
the foundations this year. They’re all sick of me.”
The biggest contribution was $6,000, from Cleveland Amory of the Fund for
Animals. With a successful rescue to tout, and the prospect of perhaps permanently halting
the Death Valley burro massacres ahead, WBR could do well in direct-mail
fundraising––but has no electricity or running water, let alone a computerized mailing list.
“I guess we’ll have to learn,” Chontos shrugged. Twenty-five years after he left
the activist life in Berkeley to homestead in the foothills beneath Mt. St. Helens, technology
may have ensnared him at last––”but it’s worth it,” he adds, “to save those burros.”
Wild Burro Rescue is located at 665 Burnt Ridge Road, Onalaska, WA 98570.