The first donkeys came to the Americas on supply ships with the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus, and were landed at Hispaniola in 1495. The first to reach North America may have been two animals taken to Mexico by Juan de Zumárraga, the first bishop of Mexico, in 1528, and who, in 1529, requested that more be sent in order to assist the native people, who had been branded and enslaved by the Conquistadores.
The first donkeys to reach what is now the United States may have crossed the Rio Grande with Juan de Oñate in April 1598. From that time on, they spread northward, finding use in missions and mines. Donkeys were documented as present in what today is Arizona in 1679. By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, the burro was the beast of burden of choice of early prospectors in the western United States. With the end of the placer mining boom, many of them escaped or were abandoned, and a feral population established itself.
Unlike wild horses, wild burros in dry areas are solitary and do not form harems. Each adult burro establishes a home range; breeding over a large area may be dominated by one jack. The loud call or bray of the donkey, which typically lasts for twenty seconds and can be heard for over three kilometres, may help keep in contact with other donkeys over the wide spaces of the desert. Burros have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but this has been attributed to a much stronger sense of “self-preservation” than exhibited by horses. Likely based on a stronger prey instinct and a weaker connection with humans, it is considerably more difficult to force or frighten a burro into doing something it perceives to be dangerous for whatever reason. Once a person has earned their confidence, they can be willing and companionable partners and very dependable in work
Return to Freedom is home to 15 burros who came to us from the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Nevada. A few other burros came to us from Clark Mountain, and a few more we rehomed from the BLM.
A few of our Sheldon burros; Gandalf is the white one on the right.
Dante and Buckwheat enjoying the day and each other.
Buckwheat (above with Dante) was captured from a high-desert area in Nevada and lived for a short time with a family in Los Angeles. He made his way to Return to Freedom in 2000 and was turned out in a pasture with both horses and burros. Buckwheat quickly became friends with two young burros named Poncho and Maggie and the three of them are never far from each other. Buckwheat is an extremely affable burro and insists that visitors spend all of their time with him!