BULLHEAD CITY — It’s been a dangerous year for the burros around Bullhead City.
So far, 21 of the animals have died on city roadways, according to the Bullhead City Police Department. Five others have been injured.
Fortunately, the human toll of those collisions has been minor: two reported injuries.
The equine death toll has taken a considerable jump this year.
Two burros died in 2017 and three died in 2016, said Emily Fromelt, the police department’s public information officer.
That means there have been four times more burro deaths this year than the previous two years combined.
Many of the collisions have occurred on Bullhead Parkway. Burros cross the Parkway — sometimes even stopping on the median to graze — in search of food and water. They also have been hit crossing other roads, such as Laughlin Ranch Road, Highway 95 and Highway 68.
The animals tend to widen their excursion area when the temperatures cool.
Wild burros are herbivores that eat grasses, plants and other digestible vegetation as they wander.
Complicating matters is that humans have inadvertently taught the burros that automobiles and food are linked.
Many well-meaning people drive up to side of the highway to deliver food to the burros, which is why in the minds of the burros “cars equal food,” said Valerie Gohlke, public affairs officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado River District.
Residents in Bullhead City’s Laughlin Ranch and Punto de Vista neighborhoods complained about one herd of at least 20 causing landscaping and other property damage early in the year. BLM planned to remove up to 60 burros in June. The agency returned in August to roundup burros in other areas of northeast Arizona.
Burros aren’t a native species; the pack animals were brought to the region by miners and prospectors beginning in the 1860s. When the mines shut down, many companies abandoned the burros, leaving them to fend for themselves — and repopulate.
They have fared well here in spite of extreme temperatures that can exceed 120 degrees on some summer days and drop well below freezing on occasional winter nights.
Burros prefer to wander during the day but may be less active in the heat. Like other desert animals they will “hunker down in cooler shady places, when possible,” said Gohlke.
This population tends to grow quickly and can rise 18 to 25 percent per year.
“Unchecked herds double in size every four years, due to a lack of natural predators and a rapid growth rate,” she said.
The Black Mountain Herd Management Area, which includes Bullhead City, had an estimated 1,725 burros in 2014. The preferred population is only 478.
BLM offices in Arizona have been involved with the Humane Society of the United States in a pilot project testing the feasibility of a contraceptive vaccine on female burros. Those involved in the study gathered and vaccinated burros, then returned them to the locations from where they were picked up from August 2017 to February 2018 within the 1.1 million-acre Black Mountain HMA that runs from the Hoover Dam south to the Needles bridge, according to the BLM.
More than 5,000 wild burros roam Arizona.
City officials aren’t allowed to touch the animals, which are protected under the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The city does try to work with the BLM and is urging the agency to conduct another burro gather soon, said Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter.