Wild Burro Rescue

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1997:

jacks and six jennies from alpine habitat one doesn’t normally
associate with the California desert, Wild Burro Rescue has for
the third straight year averted a National Park Service massacre.
Much hard work is still ahead, gentling the burros, adopting them
out, and trucking many to their destinations, but the hardest job,
convincing the Park Service that nonlethal burro control is possible,
is gradually becoming accomplished.
The Mojave National Preserve burro population may be
markedly less than the Park Service estimate of 1,800, Chontos
told ANIMAL PEOPLE. After removing about 50 burros in previous
years, he said, the WBR team found none in the low desert
this year, while above the snow line they found mainly bachelor
bands––an indication that most Mojave jennies, who tend to stay
at the lower levels, have either been captured and removed, or
were shot several years ago, before WBR got involved.

National Park Service policy is to extirpate non-native
species, including mustangs and burros, who are protected by the
1971 Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Protection Act
only if they occupy Bureau of Land Management-administered
property. Mustangs are captured for sale; burros are just shot.
Having already killed 400 burros at Death Valley
National Monument, 1987-1994, the Park Service gained authority
over another 4.7 million acres of former BLM land nearby with
the passage of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act.
When national groups did nothing to avert an impending
burro massacre, Wild Burro Rescue stepped in––a “group” consisting
of just Gene and Diana Chontos on a remote 25-acre parcel
near Onalaska, Washington, where they live in a one-room shed,
with no running water and no electricity until just last year.
Over the past two years, enlisting much help from volunteers,
WBR has removed enough burros each spring to satisfy
the Park Service that the numbers are at least stable. Funds to
hire wranglers, rent helicopters, and buy a horse trailer have been
raised through sheer determination, with some support, now terminated,
from the Bozack and Kruger Foundation, and other help
from the Summerlee Foundation and Fund for Animals.
The rescues bring together strange allies, Chontos
acknowledges. Some established horse rescue groups are now
becoming involved, but especially at first, horse rescuers tended
to be uninterested in burros. Animal rights activists are supportive,
yet usually lack essential expertise in handling hooved animals.
The skilled labor accordingly comes from sympathetic farriers,
zoo staff, and even rodeo cowboys.
“We don’t turn anyone down whose heart is in the right
place,” Chontos says. “We don’t care where their heads are at, if
they can put it aside to work as a team.”
While in southern California, WBR had two other burro
evacuations to arrange: the immediate removal of a band of eight
or nine burros from a portion of San Diego County directly beside
the Mexican border, and the eventual removal of about 100
already semi-tame descendants from the Mojave group, who were
brought to Big Bear City, a few at a time, for an annual novelty
race. Afterward, they were released. The surroundings are now
built up, the burros are hemmed in, and they are faring poorly
against car traffic. As many as 100 burros have been hit by cars
since 1989; 22 were killed just in 1996.
WBR welcomes calls from prospective volunteers and
donors at 360-985-7282.

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