Among the multiple species found within U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground’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. 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.

“They’ve got a lot of personality," said Daniel Steward, wildlife biologist. "Burros are less likely to shy away from people than a deer. They’re entertaining -- people truly do enjoy seeing these animals around.”
Among the multiple species found within U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground’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. 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.

“They’ve got a lot of personality," said Daniel Steward, wildlife biologist. "Burros are less likely to shy away from people than a deer. They’re entertaining -- people truly do enjoy seeing these animals around.” (Photo Credit: Mark Schauer)
VIEW ORIGINAL

For most of its nearly 80-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 help the environment,” said Daniel Steward, YPG wildlife biologist. “That way, the range is always ready to be used for military testing.”

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.”

Mitigating the burro threat from Highway 95, the two-lane road with a higher traffic density than any other in Arizona that bisects YPG, 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.