The Force of the Horse


Opinion by: Marjorie Farabee, Director of Wild Burro Affairs for Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“Donkeys have long endured ridicule from people who have taken their quiet, kind nature for weakness. They make fun of their lovely voice and beautiful ears. They torment them, and work them to the bone, because the donkey doesn’t complain. The donkey wants to please, and finds even the smallest gesture of kindness a great gift.”

merrychristmasTaking Benny on public outings is a joyful experience. As this sweet young survivor of severe malnutrition, nuzzles a child or looks for approving rubs from adults, we are reminded of his beginnings two years ago. We are also reminded during these holy days that miracles are possible. Donkeys are often the among the most abused and misunderstood animals on earth. Little Benny was only three months old when TMR Rescue, Inc. rescued him along with the rest of his family who were all malnourished. The scene encountered on this emergency rescue was all too familiar to this large equine rescue located just outside Houston in Plantersville, TX. Marjorie Farabee, the equine manager at the ranch, learned of the starving family of five miniature donkeys in need of assistance, at 3 pm. By 5 pm they were on the road to make the two-hour trip to save them. A great deal of time had been lost because other organizations had been alerted for months that there was serious situation unfolding. Yet, not one of those organizations chose to follow up on the report. We were not notified until the actual day of the rescue.

recoveryGiven the unforgiving weather headed our way, and the fragility of a three-month old baby, we knew there wasn’t much time since the temperatures were expected to drop into the teens that night. As soon as the five were loaded on the trailer, Marjorie headed straight to Texas A & M veterinary hospital. It was clear from the condition of the baby that they all needed to be seen immediately. Little baby we named Benny, weighed only thirty-nine pounds and had the gravest prognosis. They gave him a twenty percent chance of survival. Then, overnight, his bladder burst reducing his already slim chances to a mere ten percent. It took combining allopathic and homeopathic medicine, plus the will of one baby donkey to survive for Benny to recover. His mother, aunt, father and brother were also in need of care. Sadly, his aunt miscarried a foal in

the days following the rescue, and his brother spent a week getting stickers removed from his mouth. All were malnourished and needed care for about a week. Benny’s stay was much, much longer with his life hanging by a thread for weeks. Today, we joyfully celebrate his determination to live and love for people everywhere we go. He is an inspiration. His story can be found under special stories on our website at

Donkeys have long endured ridicule from people who have taken their quiet, kind nature for weakness. They make fun of their lovely voice and beautiful ears. They torment them, and work them to the bone, because the donkey doesn’t complain. The donkey wants to please, and finds even the smallest gesture of kindness a great gift. Yet, there is no question that the donkey played an enormous role in helping humankind to reach great distances to settle in new lands. Their strong backs were used to carry goods hundreds, even thousands of miles thus, establishing trade routes and civilization. Humankind owes these remarkable animals respect not ridicule.

For those of us who have come to know and understand the intelligent, inquisitive donkey, have been rewarded with a new perspective on the world. It is a world where slowing down to be in the moment is everything. These times of complete connection are like meditation. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that donkey trekking in Europe and pack burro racing in CO are so popular. What a wonderful way to see the world! Traveling with a donkey companion who has memorized the way to the next station and will carry your supplies while providing complete companionship is rejuvenating and for many life changing. For pack burro racing the competitors are the burros who must have their human still attached to the lead rope when (if they decide to) cross the finish line. It is a high energy, physically challenging sport that has the burro’s temperament racing day to factor in which makes for a really fun afternoon of fans cheering on their racers. Clearly, we owe the humble donkey so much more than the harsh treatment they receive around the world.

Donkeys are often the brunt of irrational hatred. We see it in the USA where our wild burros are constantly targeted for removal and blamed for damages they have not caused. An entire propaganda language has been born to assist agencies like the BLM and Forest Service to zero out wild burros in the United States. This targeted elimination program uses language like over-populated, destructive, feral and exotic to further their cause of removing burros from their designated range lands. The truth of the matter is that our wild burros qualify as endangered by IUCN standards. The truth is that burros are critical to habitat restoration in desertified areas. The desertification is due to poor livestock management and short sighted management decisions made by the BLM. Burros, dig wells which sets up a cascade of life in the desert. Burros are also indigenous to the North American continent. The sad reality is that burros provide a scapegoat for the loss of western lands to overgrazing by livestock which outnumber burros 100 to one. And, as these powerful agencies close in our benign burros for removals, the actual activities decimating our western lands are increased and pushed through without oversight such as the peace trail through Black Mountain HMA which will unleash thousands of off road vehicles onto the fragile desert lands the burros call home. With all of the pressures facing these remarkable animals, the future for donkeys is becoming increasingly uncertain.

China is presently responsible for slaughtering four million donkeys a year for traditional medicinal products made from their skin. There are three components in all Chinese medicine and ejiao is one of them. Because of this, donkey skins (ejiao) are the new rhino horn, and just like the rhino, the Chinese demand is unsustainable. Already, countries in Africa are seeing their donkey populations drop at such an alarming rate that the poor who rely on them for survival cannot afford to buy one. year-make-Chinese-miracle-youth-serum.html Villagers are also having to keep the donkeys that are in their possession closely watched to protect them from poachers who roam the countryside looking for donkeys which they slaughter and skin. So, in an act of desperation, villagers have built areas where they can be guarded from poachers inside the perimeters of their villages. South America is also seeing a spike in donkeys being stolen and found slaughtered. The Chinese are sending agents all over the world in search of donkeys to meet their demand. It is clear that this demand will place the world’s population of donkeys in the critically endangered category within a decade if efforts are not made internationally to curb the export of donkeys to China.

The Chinese appetite for donkey skins has risen to such a degree that a worldwide crisis is unfolding for donkey populations around the world. To get a perspective on how unsustainable the demand is in China a look at numbers will help bring this into perspective. In the United States the population of donkeys is estimated to be between 250,000 and 400,000. Our wild burro population ranges between 4,000 to 10,000 total on all BLM public lands. They are already in trouble. The Chinese demand is for ten million donkeys a year. Currently, they are able to provide four million donkeys a year. Clearly, at this rate, our population of donkeys in the United States would be wiped out in a few months. We cannot allow this to happen in the States. Yet, weekly, there has been a clear increase of our donkeys being exported to Mexico for slaughter. The alarm bells should be ringing.

josephandmaryWorldwide the population of donkeys is estimated to be forty million donkeys. With Chinese demand as high as it is, a future with donkeys in it is not looking good. We need to make a stand to protect these wonderful animals before their population is in true crisis. In a future plagued by climate change, donkeys may be the salvation of pastoralists living under harsh conditions. Their footprint is light; their energy needs are meager. Because of their gentle nature, donkeys are the preferred working animal of women who live in the harshest conditions and who need them the most to survive.

At this time of year, it brings to mind the role donkeys played in history. In particular, I am thinking of one donkey chosen by a family to help them travel to Bethlehem. With each sweet step this humble, donkey carried Mary with great care to a stable. This donkey witnessed the birth of Jesus.

13 replies »

  1. Proslaughter condemned these animals by starting the campaign of death. I had a Good Friend who once told me that as long he was alive he would buy every mule donkey and burro he could give a good home too. He rescued probably thousands from abuse from killer buyers from sales and slavery. His one man mission began with a pair of lovable ragged long ears. He said because any animal is kinder than the human that has it they are perceived to be lesser or weaker. He said they had strengths beyond readon and personality beyond imagination which is why people harm them. A man on a mission who Never turned away a kicker or a bucker or a terrified animal. It was the people who had the problem not the animal hesld say. He loved when I called them animals with “issues”. Hed say yeah people issues. If you care about equines you should adore these creatures. His love of them lives in my heart forever. China will destroy these numbers. Killers ship as many as they can. Killer buyers dreamed up talking bad towards these creatures in the 80ss to ship them to slaughter. That conversation took place in the Danville sale barn. Im not sure who threw the first punch…it was a blur. Two killers said these animals were useless compared to horses and they were made up a list of potential damagibg things to say to discourage buyers wanting them. I think the man I referred to above tried at first to stop it but wound up tangled with the donkey breeders who were angered by this. However the killers left with busted lips black and blue but still carried out their plan. Ken worked to saved everyone by explaining all their uses and how great and adaptable they were. Hate killed alot of these animals before Ken could once again see people understand their beauty and usefulness and loving nature all the while earning cantankerous animals the right to live. That damage those two men carried out lasted for years. God bless Kens hard work and midnight save a mule runs or coming in late to work one day covered in mud from loading escaped long ears.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Marjorie, for this beautiful tribute to our threatened and often neglected long-eared equine friends. We wouldn’t do without our 3 rescue donkeys (2 from BLM’s Havasu HMA) for the world. Recently I became friends with a woman who used to head Cheyenne’s Animal Shelter and who worked with Wild Horse Annie and Cleveland Amory. When Cleveland rescued the nearly 700 burros from the Navy’s China Lake range — after they had rounded up an executed the first 700 in cold blood — she found homes for dozens of them and adopted one herself. There’s not enough we can do to pay back these amazing animals and to stop their worldwide slaughter.


  3. Any “human” who believes because an animal is kind they are less? Not much of a human being! Read about this before – why is it necessary to slaughter animals in order for people to have the next trendy thing? And sadly, too many of the times “trendy” seems to mean destroying whole species of creatures. Really, donkey skins, shark fins, rhino horns, so many others. Kind of makes you wonder about the human race!


  4. Excellent article and excellent information on the current threat to our wild and domestic donkeys. Marjorie, you and TMR rescue and Benny and especially “Uncle Johnnie” are all inspirational to those of us who love and respect burros. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As if our wild burros don’t already have enough negativity … here is how BLM “counts” our wild burros:

    “Counting Burros”
    Q: When does 175 minus 80 equal 635???
    A: When BLM does the math.

    Wild Burro Gather Feb. 19, 2010
    Black Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA) in northwestern Arizona
    The BLM chart shows:
    Estimated pre-gather population of 175
    Number of animals (burros) gathered of 84
    Number of animals (burros) removed of 80
    Number of animals (burros) that died, non gather related of 2
    Estimated post-gather population of 635!!!
    The BLM numbers are seriously flawed.

    See this for yourself on the official BLM chart at the following link:

    Click to access Completed%20FY%2010%20Gathers.pdf

    Why are the population numbers so very important? Because those are the numbers that BLM uses to substantiate their reasoning for more captures and removals and those are the numbers that BLM tells congress and tells the American people. This is fraud against the American taxpayer and it is the innocent wild burros who suffer the consequences.


  6. Such an eloquent and urgent plea for wake-up conscience and heroic action NOW to save the wonderful donkeys, aka burros, of our world from the blind voracity of humanity!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The numbers are so important to understand. Grandma Gregg there have been moves in the past to have burros placed on an endangered species list. You will remember that somehow Forest Service was able to push through a name change with CITES. This move was unprecedented since a scientific name is given by the scientists governing their listing and not a government agency. All those efforts to obfuscate the truly tenuous existence of our wild burros by name change is followed up with marketing language that describe burros as feral, over-populated and exotic. The real situation for our re-established native burros is hidden in the numbers. When a species population falls below 50,000 they are called a species of concern. When they fall below 10,000 they are endangered. Our estimates of the actual population of wild burros puts them in the critically endangered category. We should all be very alarmed. Losing burros will have a devastating effect on our ranges. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them in the wild, don’t delay. Their time on our ranges is limited, if we don’t act quickly to save them. Yes, my hair is on fire. The threat is real.~Marjorie


  8. The Burros just quietly disappear without much notice…far easier to remove them without Public backlash
    THANK GOODNESS for people like Marjorie..Protector of All Things Burro

    Critically Endangered
    December 4, 2007
    The African Wild Ass (equus africanus) was listed on June 2, 1970 as Critically Endangered and wild populations are currently estimated at only a few hundred remaining or possibly already extinct.

    Despite this endangered status for over 37 years, no studies, recovery plans, agreements or progress has been made toward the preservation of this ancestor of our wild burros.

    One of the only modern comprehensive sources of information available on the ass species is Equids: Zebras, Asses, and Horses: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan by Patricia Moehlman, P.D. (2002) and the Equid Specialist Group of IUCN.

    While the BLM has been “managing” wild burro herds for over three decades, almost no studies have been compiled on wild burros in general or of their individual herds – they are just “lumped in” with wild horses on every level.

    What limited historical data and studies has been done regarding wild burros has primarily been compiled by those interested in promoting big game species such as bighorn sheep who flourish in similar habitats as our own wild asses.

    Needless to say, these “authoritative opinions” always finds wild burros a great threat to any species and habitat; no matter how many centuries wild burro herds have been documented in the area, totally naturalized and co-existing in harmony within those ecosystems.

    In July 2000, Patricia Moehlman, Chairwoman of the Species Survival Commission and Equid Specialist for the World Conservation Union appealed to BLM to initiate more studies of our American wild asses in efforts to obtain relevant information for critically endangered asses throughout the world.

    However, the BLM had just released their “Strategy to Achieve and Manage Wild Burros at Appropriate Management Levels” in June of 2000, which authorized wild burro populations to be slashed nationally by at least 66%, despite their “federally protected status” – Dr. Moehlmans appeal for help was ignored. (1)

    While studies on wild asses stated their reproduction rate was only 4% in good years, the BLM has applied their “wild horse reproduction rate” of 20% per year (also in serious question) to wild burros as well.




    While much of the public’s attention has been centered around their love and passion for the preservation of the American wild horse, our wild burros have often been forgotten and treated as little more than an after thought.

    Advocates would be wise to realize that wild burros, their stories, their treatment, and their decimated habitats and herds potentially hold the key to saving what’s left of our wild horses – nothing better illustrates the cumulative impact of what managed extinction looks like under the auspices of federal protection than the American Wild Burro.

    For many that have had a wild burro touch their heart, their life has been transformed by their magical presence and the passionate devotion that these special beings have inspired has caused their advocates more heartbreak and tears than can be imagined as they have had to bear witness to these precious and unique herds being systematically destroyed.

    In effort to honor those that have been irrevocably lost, to increase awareness of what little herds still remain and to those few individuals who have chosen the lonely path of trying to preserve and protect them, American Herds presents Decemburro as tribute – in rememburroance and in love.


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