On 130 acres in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra, over 200 rescued burros from Death Valley have found sanctuary.

I love all creatures big and small and a large part of that is due to the fact that I was always surrounded by them when I was growing up.

I love all creatures big and small and a large part of that is due to the fact that I was always surrounded by them when I was growing up.

I rode our quarter horses bareback...

I rode our horses bareback…

...and was there to greet the newborns after witnessing their birth.

…and was there to greet the newborns after witnessing their births. We had a wide variety of animals including cows, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigeons, and of course cats and dogs but it was our horses that I really felt the strongest connection with. So when I found out about a burro sanctuary located off of Hwy 395, I knew I had to go check it out.

And that's exactly what I did on a recent trip I took on the way to Mammoth.

I came across the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project while performing my usual online search for possible places to visit on my way Mammoth. After speaking to founder & president Diana Chontos over the phone prior to my visit, I could tell it was going to be a fun trip. The rescue is located near Olancha, CA, west of Hwy 395 in the shadow of Olancha Peak. Fortunately my vehicle was small enough to fit through the narrow bridge opening that crosses over the LA Aqueduct.

Follow the signs along the well graded dirt road...

Following the signs along the well graded dirt road…

...towards the

…I made my way towards the base of the snow covered Eastern Sierra mountains…

They love having visitors but you'll need to call ahead in order to get the combo that unlocks the gate.

…until I reached the gate. Visitors are welcome, but due to Diana’s busy schedule caring for the animals, you’ll need to call ahead in order to arrange a time for your arrival and get the combination to the lock that opens the gate.

The property sits on 130 acres of land with multiple large corrals...

The property sits on 130 acres of land with multiple large corrals…

…and an old ranch house sitting towards the back of the property amongst a grove of trees.

…and an old ranch house sitting towards the back of the property amongst a grove of trees.

Diana Chontos

Diana opened a 43-acre animal sanctuary in Onalaska, WA in 1991. She founded the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project three years later after learning of the National Park Service’s “direct reduction” program of wild burros in Death Valley, despite a 1971 law passed by Congress mandating roaming land for them. From 1987 to 1994, the park service shot 400 burros in Death Valley alone.

Upon contacting NPS, they admitted to shooting over 400 Death Valley wild burros from 1987 through 1994 utilizing a lethal removal policy called 'direc reduction'. We were even more dismayed to learn that there was no public, or other, effective opposition to end this senseless slaughter of wild burros. We could no longer enjoy our lives knowing that wild burros were being routinely shot on our public lands, so we decided to go all out to stop this horror. That is when WBR ceased to be just two people with a vision and became a small, but powerful, organization funded by a few animal foundations and strengthened by supporters and volunteers dedicated to saving the Death Valley buros."

When Death Valley’s status changed from national monument to national park in 1994, a policy calling for the removal of non-native species that have detrimental effects was adopted by the agency. Wild burros and horses — descendants of animals loosed by 19th century miners and ranchers — were now considered feral beasts by NPS and “must be removed.”

But when Chontos and her husband offered to do roundups and take care of the animals afterward, federal officials agreed as long as Wild Burro Rescue would take a certain number of animals each year.

After Diana found out about the fate of the Death Valley burros, she approached NPS with a plan. After lengthy and difficult talks, she and NPS came to an agreement: The agency would not shoot burros if her organization, Wild Burro Rescue, would organize, pay for and remove the burros itself.

anctuary is home to 215 wild burros (donkeys), mules, horses, dogs, cats and lots of wildlife.

The sanctuary is now home to 215 wild burros (donkeys)…

mules...

…mules…

...horses, dogs, cats...

…horses, dogs, cats…

...and

…and one smiling desert tortoise.

Chontos tries to find suitable foster homes for some of the animals. One Las Vegas Valley resident has acquired four. And 14 others now live on the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary near Polson, Mont. But Wild Burro Rescue will keep most of them. Placement standards are tough, and none are permanent. They issue foster contracts, not sales. No money changes hands. If the living conditions deteriorate or foster owners must move, the animals are returned to Wild Burro Rescue. "They can't be sold or bred or anything," Chontos said. "We keep all the old ones, and we place or keep the others in the family groups they were caught in."

Unlike the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA, that I visited back in November 2015, the animals at Diana’s sanctuary appeared to be happier and more willing to interact with me as I approached them in their corrals.

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Don't get me wrong, all the animals at the BLM corrals appeared to be well taken care of and there was some interaction with them, but was this interaction genuine or was it because I had a bag full of carrots?

Don’t get me wrong, the animals at the BLM facility appeared to be well taken care of and there were some moments of interaction between us, but were these moments genuine or were they just coming over to me because I had a bag full of carrots?  – Photo taken during my trip to the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA

Don't get me wrong

I didn’t have any treats on me while walking around the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project grounds…

mm

…and yet they were rushing up to me, sticking their heads through the bars and giving me the look of acceptance, trust and love.

Sure, it's true that wild burros are generally more friendlier to humans than horses are...

Sure, it’s true that wild burros are generally more friendly to humans than wild horses are…

...

…but even the horses here seemed less spooked by humans than the ones I met at the BLM corrals.

That indicated to me that the animals living out their lives at the sanctuary probably felt more love since they were brought there because they were wanted there. The animals being held at the BLM corrals probably realize that they're being help by their captures who didn't want them on the land that they manage and sure as hell don't want to be responsible for them after their captured.

Charles Darwin is usually credited with being the first scientist to give serious attention to the study of animal emotions. In his books On the Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin argued that there is continuity between humans and other animals in their emotional (and cognitive) lives; that there are transitional stages among species, not large gaps; and that the differences among many animals are differences in degree rather than in kind. Perhaps this could explain the reason why the animals at the sanctuary were more willing to interact with me than the ones located at the BLM corrals in Ridgecrest. There’s no doubt in my mind that the animals living out their lives at the sanctuary receive far more love and attention than those being kept by the BLM and that they probably understand that they were brought here…

...because they were wanted here.

…because they were wanted here.

The animals being held at the BLM corrals probably realize that they're being held by their captures who didn't want them on the land that they managed and sure as hell don't want to be responsible for them after their captured. Adoptions at the BLM facilities have dropped significantly in recent years, from about 8,000 to just 2,000 a year. So a lot of these animals end up staying in the short-term corrals for a long period of time. As a result, the cost of keeping the animals is eating the majority of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget. It cost $1.5 million a year just to feed the Ridgecrest animals alone.

The animals being held at the BLM corrals have probably figured out that the same people who evicted them from the lands they’ve called home for the last 156 years are the same people who are now responsible for their welfare.  – Photo taken during my trip to the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA

Adoptions at the BLM facilities have dropped significantly in recent years, from about 8,000 to just 2,000 a year. So a lot of these animals end up staying in the short-term corrals for a long period of time. As a result, the cost of keeping the animals is eating the majority of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget. It cost $1.5 million a year just to feed the Ridgecrest animals alone.

Adoptions at the BLM facilities have dropped significantly in recent years, from about 8,000 to just 2,000 a year. So a lot of these animals end up staying in the short-term corrals for a long period of time. As a result, the cost of keeping the animals is eating the majority of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget. It cost $1.5 million a year just to feed the Ridgecrest animals alone.  – Photo taken during my trip to the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA

The animals under the care Diana also require a lot of expense

The Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and does not receive any money from government sources.

The animals here 501 (c) 3 Non-profit Organization, which means that all your donations are tax-deductible up to your personal tax limits. We are not Government funded. In fact, we do not receive any money from Government sources, so the burros depend entirely on you and your generous donations.

Diana depends solely on donations to feed and care for her animals but unlike most charities that only allocate a small portion of their donations to the actual cause they are supposedly trying to help, 97% of the donations that the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project receives goes directly to serving the animals.

Diana also relies on Burro loving volunteers to come and help out on projects around the off the grid 130-acre ranch. Volunteers are welcome to stay in one of these small yet very cute tiny houses during their stay.

Diana also relies on volunteers to come and help out on projects around her off the grid 130-acre ranch. These cute tiny houses located on the property are sometimes made available to volunteers during their stay. I was only able to donate monetarily during my visit but I plan on going back and spending a couple of days helping out with the animals and bettering their environment.

As

As I was leaving the ranch I came across this memorial which reminded me of a story I had recently read. All burros (donkeys) have a narrow strip of hair that runs down their backs and each of their shoulders in a darker shade than the rest of their coat. This naturally makes the shape of a cross. Evolutionist theorize that the cross is what remains of a stripey coat which would have been camouflage in their natural homes on the edge of deserts. But there’s also another explanation that some people like to point to. The donkey is mentioned numerous times in the Old and New Testament and has a key role on Palm Sunday when a donkey was chosen by Jesus to be his route into Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem fulfilled a prophecy spoken 500 years before that the Messiah would ride a donkey into Jerusalem. From this came a legend of the donkey’s cross. The little donkey that had been Jesus’ mount on Palm Sunday, came to the hill of Calvary. Seeing the tragic event occurring there, he wished with all his heart he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus, as he was the proper one to carry heavy burdens. The donkey turned his back on the sight, but he could not leave because he wished to stay until all was over because of his love for Jesus. In reward for the loyal and humble love of the little donkey, the Lord caused the shadow of the cross to fall across his back and left it there for the donkey to carry forevermore as a sign that the love of God, no matter how humble, carries a reward for all to see.

If you would like to help out these humble creatures, please visit www.wildburrorescue.org/index.php/donate. Your love and donations would be greatly appreciated.

If you would like to help out these humble creatures, please visit https://www.wildburrorescue.org/. Your love and donations would be greatly appreciated.

 

Bunks & Burros: A Straynger Ranger Volunteer Event

When I first visited the rescue back in May of 2016, I instantly felt a connection to the land and the animals that have found sanctuary there. Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time helping out at the Rescue and have grown quite close to Diana and her dedicated team of workers who do an incredible job of providing care and love to all the animals but are often forced to place other projects on the back burner due to insufficient funding and/or limited resources. While the rescue has always been open to volunteers, the volunteer program itself hasn’t always been able to reach its full potential.

Bunks & Burros: A Straynger Ranger Volunteer Event was created to build upon the volunteer program that already exists at the rescue. This unique one of a kind program offers volunteers the opportunity to camp alongside some of the last remaining wild burros taken out of Death Valley National Park. They’ll also get a chance to help improve the lives of all the animals living at the sanctuary by working on and completing projects during their stay that directly impact the animals that call the sanctuary their home.

The volunteers at our first event back in May of 2017, were able to help improve the lives of several of the senior burros living at the rescue. It was incredible to see the change we made in these animals lives with only a few hours of work and it only made me want to do more. If you would like to join us on the next Bunks & Burros, please follow/like Straynger Ranger on FB where information regarding future events will be posted.