Burros (increased risk of national collapse & international crisis)

Donkeys around the world, including our own nation’s wild burros, are in peril.

The global threat is fueled by China’s Ejiao trade; inside the United States it is driven by the very agency tasked with their protection – the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM claims they need to drive down the population of wild burros to less than 3,000, the level they say “is appropriate.” Burros are being removed in larger numbers than ever, hidden in off-limits facilities, slipped out through “sale” and the Adoption Incentive Program. Make no mistake, U.S. donkeys are being sold and exported into this nefarious illegal wildlife trade that is driving the donkey population worldwide into crisis.

This article is presented as a long-read reference guide regarding the state of wild burros.

WHE is currently working hard on precedent setting litigation at the Blue Wing Complex in Nevada (one of the largest areas in the US where burros can legally occupy the land, over 2 million acres, where BLM says only 90 burros are “appropriate.”) We will update you soon!

Bills active in the 117th Congress will all expire at the end of this session. They will need to be reintroduced in January. However, you can learn more about this important bill (that may not have time to pass this session, but is likely to be back in January). HR 5203 is a bill in Congress to stop the export of US donkeys for the Ejaio trade. You can read the bill, and contact your reps, by using the information you can find HERE.

Blue Wing burros were removed from the range and shuffled rapidly out of sight.

(article submitted by WHE subject matter expert, Laurie Ford)

Every year upwards to 5-8 million donkeys are slaughtered – their hides boiled to produce the gelatin (ejiao) used in manufacturing traditional Chinese medicines of which the U.S. is the 3rd largest importer of. Having depleted their own supply long ago China is now depending on the worldwide horrendous donkey skin trade to meet their needs.

It is estimated that there are 40 million donkeys/burros worldwide. The Ejiao trade has put the species in peril. 

Blue Wing Burros, NV

This demand has impacted countries around the world, especially in underdeveloped regions where families rely on donkeys for their survival and livelihood.  An estimated 35% are stolen leaving the owners unable to replace them due to their growing scarcity and high cost.

While many of these countries are now taking steps to protect their donkey populations from further plummeting at an annual rate of 20% our government is purposely reducing America’s wild burro numbers by 15-20% each year to appease special interests and powerful lobbyists in Washington. The BLM prefers to justify these removals as a response to calls for a “thriving natural ecological balance” on our public lands.

Here in the U.S. wild burros – many still titled to the BLM – are ending up in kill pens where their value has increased 2500%.

Our wild burros possess many characteristics of their wild ass ancestors.

Burro face a very real possibility of worldwide extinction within 10-15 years.

With less than 600 still roaming free, the African Wild Ass – gray in color with light muzzles and bellies, dark defined dorsal stripes, manes tipped and ears brimmed in black with zebra stripes running up and down their legs – is considered critically endangered.

The Asian Wild Ass – reddish brown with white reaching upwards from their bellies to their rump and neckline – are deemed to be “near threatened” with a population of 28,000.

Yet, the BLM continues down their destructive path to reduce our own estimated population of 17,780 to 2900 by 2030– half the level that, in 2013, provoked the NAS to  recommend the BLM cease removals until it could assess whether the AMLs set for burros can sustain a genetically healthy total population.”

Dr. Gus Cothran, a leader in the field of equine population genetics, believes that a wild horse and burro herd size of 150-200 animals is the minimum required to insure a genetically effective population – a number that would need to be increased if the BLM proceeds with plans to skew herd sex rations.

Chart above from WHE on-range population statistics report with areas where BLM allows wild burros highlighted. 

Throughout the entire western U.S. there are only 21 “burros only” HMAs; only 3 with an AML of over 151 (150 reproductive animals is considered to be genetically stable).

Not only is the loss of habitat and genetic variation in our wild burro population a threat but, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature, over the next 10 years  we will have met 2 of the three criteria set for these burros to  be considered an endangered species – we will have reduced their population by 80% and left fewer than 2500 adult males on the range.

Blue Wing Complex, NV.

In reality, they could be moving closer to extinction than simply being endangered.

The BLM has little idea how many still roam our public lands apart from estimated numbers on a spreadsheet – the product of unsubstantiated and inconsistent data acquired over the decades. Having acknowledged that existing survey methods and analyses used to acquire data may not provide accurate and precise population size estimates the BLM continues using these same estimates when determining excess numbers to be removed – unconcerned because almost all wild burros can be removed from the wild and placed into private care at costs that are comparable to the cost of treating and releasing them.

Population estimates drive nearly all BLM management decisions and are obtained by aerial surveys and population modeling that, on the 1st of March, multiplies the previous year’s population estimate by the past annual growth rate to project the following years population. This model was developed for horses, not burros, and is based on a July-August foaling season despite BLM’s insistence that burros have no defined foaling season. In addition, the model does not consider the lower pregnancy rate of burros due to longer gestation periods and lapses associated with rebreeding that typically results in 3 foals every 4 years – not a doubling in size.

Rather than develop a model for burros that explores these differences, and the numerous other factors that can impact birth rates from year to year, the BLM chooses to “fall back to the simpler application of an annual growth rate” centered around foal births rather than foal survival to yearling age – found to be around 50% in studies conducted over the years. Further analysis of burro data – using foal and yearling survival rates – has indicated a 7% annual population growth.

As for aerial surveys, where it is much more difficult to observe burros due to their similarity in appearance and tendency to travel in small groups that easily scatter, the counts are adjusted to account for those “present but not seen” and then reported as actual population estimates.

To compound the problem inconsistencies between state and national databases continue to be an issue. In 2013 the NAS found a substantial proportion of the HMA estimates published by the national office did not correspond to the ones the committee received from the field offices; discrepancies ranged from modest to many hundreds of animals. They also noted the links between the national statistics and actual population-size surveys, which are the foundational data of all estimates (whether derived at the field-office or national level), are obscure.

Upon comparing data from 2 state FOIAs and the corresponding national FOIA – all covering the same 30-day period – I found over 50% of the burros shipped and/or adopted appeared on the state spreadsheet but were absent from the national spreadsheet. In addition, burros shown as adopted or shipped on the national spreadsheet were not documented on that of the matching states.

On 3/1/2021 the national burro population was estimated to be 14,454. By 3/1/22 it had increased to 17,780 after 1918 were removed during FY 2021. According to the BLM’s own population modeling formula (15% (past growth rate) x 14,454 (3/1/21 population) – 1918 (FY21 removals)) the result should be 14,703 – a 3077 difference. It is most likely the BLM will claim the adjusted counts from aerial surveys – their only other source of obtaining population estimates – are the reason for the increase.

Having removed close to 3000 this year one wonders what numbers will appear in the modeling program on 3/1/2023?

My guess, it will be just enough to support the ongoing 10 (or is it 20?) year plan and ensure that the well-oiled machine keeps turning and abusive multiple users can continue to scapegoat both horses and burros for the damage they have caused themselves. 

More reading:

Ejiao: The Illegal Trade That’s Bringing Donkeys To The Brink Of Extinction: www.theplaidhorse.com/2021/10/28/ejiao-the-illegal-trade

Donkey Skin Trade: www.researchgate.net/publication/359285862 

HR 5203 is a bill in Congress to stop the export of US donkeys for the Ejaio trade. You can read the bill, and contact your reps, by using the information you can find HERE.

A precedent setting case is being fought at Blue Wing that could pave a path to gain management planning to preserve (not just non-stop removals) of wild horses AND burros. Update coming soon.

WHE is taking a stand to fight for protection of our wild horses and burros.

Help keep us in the fight.


Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education