Love those heehaws and snorts, but Death Valley aims to become a ‘no-burro zone’
As the sun set on a landscape of scruffy mountains and sweeping plains, 20 wild burros watched Mark Meyers with ears erect.
They had reason to be quizzical: Meyers and his hired hands were building traps around their muddy watering hole.
Amid the clatter of hammers and occasional heehaws and snorts in a remote corner of Death Valley National Park, Meyers called out to the descendants of pack animals used by miners and prospectors more than a century ago.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be all right.”
Federal officials have charged Meyers with safely capturing the roughly 2,500 to 4,000 wild burros said to be roaming the 3.4-million-acre park as quickly as possible for transport to adoptive homes and sanctuaries across the nation.
As of Oct. 22 — six days into the campaign — the team had snared 28.
The image of the burro as the grizzled sourdough’s faithful beast of burden contrasts, officials say, with the reality that they breed prolifically and out-compete native vegetarians — stately bighorn sheep, tiny kangaroo rats and bulky chuckwalla lizards — by devouring and trampling available greenery.
“Burros are not part of the natural California desert ecosystem,” said Mike Reynolds, superintendent of Death Valley National Park.
Burro roundups are nothing new in Death Valley, where the hardy and remarkably adaptive animals have come to dominate contoured badlands and carpet life-giving seeps and springs with their droppings. The most recent was in 2005.
But officials hope a five-year agreement signed by the National Park Service and Meyers’ nonprofit Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue may amount to the last large-scale roundup conducted in the park, where 20-mule teams once pulled wagons loaded with borax.