They came from northeastern Africa to southern Europe to the Americas and eventually to south Redlands in San Timoteo Canyon. Today, several herds of feral animals inhabit the canyon and roam between Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Miners brought donkeys — burros, as they are known in Spanish — to Southern California in the late 1800s and early 1900s, then left them behind when the mines failed. Another story tells of a California agency relocating a Fawnskin donkey herd to the badlands near Moreno Valley and San Timoteo Canyon. However they arrived, the donkeys now number several hundred in several different herds.
If they could simply roam the hills and nosh on chaparral, weeds, grass and wildflowers, their presence would hardly be known. That’s not the full story, as they now explore a larger area in search of food, water, and mates, crossing highways and roads and private properties in the area.
Collisions between vehicles and burros are regular on San Timoteo Canyon Road and Reche Canyon Road. They have even been on Interstate 215, resulting in an accident that killed at least five animals.
In San Timoteo Canyon, herds of burros have been around for at least 20 years, and have wandered over to the San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary on the north side of San Timoteo Canyon Road in the past two years. According to Redlands Conservancy, which manages the sanctuary, the burros do not seem to be damaging the habitat at this time, but their numbers are relatively small, compared to the size of herds in the south hills. The biggest problem with burros in the sanctuary is the amount of manure deposits they leave, on and off the trails.
Signs along San Timoteo Canyon Road warn drivers about the presence of the feral animals near the roadway. DonkeyLand Rescue, a nonprofit group in Reche Canyon south of Loma Linda, works with regional agencies to save injured animals and protect them as they recover.
Most animals injured on the roads are euthanized, but not before they have suffered significantly.
According to a 1974 abstract for the California Department of Fish and Game, a 1971 federal law places wild burros, as well as wild horses, found on public land under the jurisdiction of the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture. It is a federal offense to harass, capture, kill, sell, or process into any commercial product the burros. State law prohibits feeding, killing or relocating, without a permit.
Mostly, common sense should warn individuals from having anything to do with a wild animal, without a good amount of expertise, according to DonkeyLand Rescue.
That means no feeding, no petting, no removing the burros from their natural habitat.
Who to call
Hikers, cyclists and equestrians who use the San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary trails should be prepared to call for help if they encounter a distressed, injured or orphaned wild burro. Agencies that will respond to the sanctuary include Redlands Animal Control, (909) 798-7644 or DonkeyLand’s 24-hour Emergency Rescue number, (951) 234-0393.