Wild burros, horses are longstanding denizens of YPG
For most of its 76 year history, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) has seen itself as a natural laboratory, desiring to test equipment Soldiers use in the most realistic natural environment possible to ensure it works as it should wherever in the world they are called upon to serve.
As such, YPG has a deeply vested interest in being good stewards of the environment, and the proving ground’s record in this area shines.
The proving ground is home to one of the largest and most genetically diverse populations of bighorn sheep in Arizona. The Sonoran Pronghorn, virtually extinct in the early 2000s, is now regenerating thanks in part to Arizona Game and Fish officials intentionally introducing the creature into YPG as a safe haven to help it regenerate. A fringe-toed lizard that is threatened in most of the American West thrives at YPG, as does the Sonoran tortoise.
“We try to do proactive things to to help the environment,” said Daniel een Steward, YPG wildlife biologist.
“That way, the range is always ready e to be used for military testing.” e Among the multiple species found within YPG’s over 1,300 square miles of range space are wild horses and burros, well known to all YPG personnel who spend their days in the field testing equipment.
“There are a lot more burros than there are horses. We track where they’re at for our safety.”
Though the burros are generally popular with the YPG workforce, the creatures occasionally cause mischief. For example, several years ago at least one enterprising burro managed to turn on a water spigot— he drank his fill, then departed with the tap still running.
“Food, water, and shelter are what draw wildlife into our area. When it gets really dry, horses and burros are looking for water. Landscaping and sprinkler systems provide water—we really try to watch out for pooling water that would attract burros.”
This past winter was relatively rainy by desert standards, which means range conditions are such that the creatures are far less likely to approach human-populated areas.
“All of the wildlife right now is disbursing. When there are really good range conditions, animals start spreading out—they’re going to areas where they didn’t have food before and now they do.”
Though some YPG personnel miss seeing the creatures as they traverse the range en route to far-flung gun positions, their relative reclusiveness has been a boon for motorists. Slow moving and with binocular vision, burros are incapable of moving out of the way of a vehicle moving at highway speeds in time to avoid a costly—and deadly—accident.
“In the past few months, we’re not seeing as many burros as before because they are staying away from the roads. As things dry out, they are going to come back-- they’ll be looking for forage and water and we’ll have to continue being vigilant when driving on Highway 95.”
Mitigating the burro threat from the length of two-lane road with a higher traffic density than any other in Arizona is no easy task, but Steward and other wildlife officials have done the best they can.
“We’ve eliminated water sources near the roads to try to keep horses and burros as far away from Highway 95 as possible. It’s not healthy for the horses and burros to be exposed to high levels of traffic, for the animals or for the people.”
Officials also attempt to relocate burros by organizing gathers with the Bureau of Land Management.
“If people let me know when they have specific damage they are receiving from burros, whether it is broken water lines or some other infrastructure damage, I can communicate that with BLM.”
Aside from favorable weather and plenty to eat and drink, the creatures tend to live long lives due to their sheer size and wary pack mentality that deters desert predators.
“Horses and burros are big, strong, and have a herd to protect each other. A lot of times they are too dangerous for a predator to take down—it happens, but it is rare. Mountain lions are typically associated with sheep, not horses or burros.”
The burros are probably helped by the goodwill of their human neighbors, too.
“They’ve got a lot of personality. Burros are less likely to shy away from people than a deer. They’re entertaining -- people truly do enjoy seeing these animals around.”
Nonetheless, Steward cautions that burros are still wild animals that should be treated as such. In particular, feeding a wild burro should be strictly avoided.
“When people start feeding the burros, they become a real nuisance. These are wild animals—one begging for food can be ornery. You want to keep a respectful distance from any wild animal.”
Mitigating the burro threat from Highway 95, the two-lane road with a higher traffic density than any other in Arizona is no easy task, but wildlife officials have done the best they can. Aside from favorable weather and plenty to eat and drink, the creatures tend to live long lives due to their sheer size and wary pack mentality that deters desert predators. (Photos by Mark Schauer)
YPG has a deeply vested interest in being good stewards of the environment, and the proving ground’s record in this area shines. Among the multiple species found within YPG’s over 1,300 square miles of range space are wild horses, well known to all YPG personnel who spend their days in the field testing military equipment.