Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saving Burros

"Burros are smarter than horses," says Art DiGrazia of the Happy Trails Wild Horse & Burro Refuge in Ridgecrest, California. "They always know where to find water in the desert, if there is water to be found."

Jennifer, Richard and I left Death Valley at 10.30am this morning. We drove south along the foot of the Panamint Mountains and out past Trona where there is a Borax works still in operation today. As we pass the navy airfield of China Lake, Jennifer spots a sign with the word "burros".

We follow the sign and come to one of the biggest burro refuges in the world. In the last century 49ers went to Death Valley hoping to strike it rich. Many brought their burros. But lots of those prospectors left a few years later - deeply dejected - and didn't bother to bring their burros out; they simply abandoned them. Over the past century a huge feral burro population has grown up in Death Valley as well as other parts of the USA. There are also wild mustangs running wild. The horses and burros have no natural predator and for this very reason they can become too numerous and suffer in the wild.


Art DiGrazia has been helping rescue burros and wild mustangs for nearly 38 years. He tells us the sad story of 64 burros who recently died of thirst in the desert because of a drought. The Happy Trails Wild Horse and Burro Refuge tries to prevent such tragedies. They capture burros, treat them, vaccinate them, brand them (in a humane way) and finally find good homes for as many of them as possible.

Art tells about his work as we watch a cowboy on horseback lead some cute burros to the barn to be freeze-branded. The lucky burros will be adopted by a person or persons who must show they can take good care of them. After a year's probation, the Refuge sells the new owner the burro or wild horse and they live happily ever after.

There are two beautiful black burros from Tonopah, Nevada in a pen with a frisky mustang. In my series I intend to give P.K. a mustang to ride. Those burros are cute but they wouldn't go as fast as that frisky mustang. In the Wild West, you want a fast horse to get away from bad guys.

"Are burros really smarter than horses?" I ask Art.

"You bet," he says.

"I was going to give the 12-year-old hero of my new Western series a mustang," I say to Art. "Do you think I should give him a burro instead?"

"No," says Art. "Mustang."

"Good," I say. "That's what I thought."

But it's nice to hear it from an expert.

For more information on the Happy Trails Wild Horse & Burro Refuge, visit their website www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/wild_horse_and_burro.html

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