Route 66 News

Please don’t feed the burros

Emily feeding one of the Oatman burros before the BLM directive.

For years, tourists to the Route 66 town of Oatman, Ariz., have been allowed to feed the wild burros that wander through the streets. Many of Oatman’s merchants sell carrots for these critters, which are descendants of the animals that once toiled in the gold mines. The Oatman burros are a major draw for a tiny town that boasts 500,000 visitors a year.

But now, according to the Associated Press (via MSNBC), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is urging merchants and tourists to not feed the burros because they’re overweight.

The agency, which manages the burros, has launched a campaign it hopes will eventually steer the burros back into the desert to forage for grass and shrubs — and get them back into shape. […]

The BLM acknowledges that its campaign to stop feeding the burros will be a hard sell but likens it to when Yellowstone National Park told visitors there to stop feeding the bears. “As the feed is diminished over time, I think they’ll start wandering out and remember what’s out there for dinner,” Oyler said.

Oatman storekeepers have been asked to stop feeding the burros or providing the treats the animals are so accustomed to. The BLM also has drafted scripts for gunfighters and shop owners that tell tourists quite bluntly that the burros are fat and are being loved to death.

Some slogans that could end up on posters or signs around town include, “No Diet-Busting Cubes or Carrots — Please!” “Keep Oatman Burros Happy and Healthy — No Extra Food,” and “Give Burros Care, not Carrots.”The BLM says the burros that don’t come into town are a lot healthier and don’t have behavioral problems or pain caused by their hooves growing to a thickness that makes it hard for them to walk.

I doubt this is going to work. I think a few burros will give up and start foraging in the wild again. But the more-stubborn animals will wait around for the local merchants to sell carrots under the table, or tourists will start bringing their own.

Maybe scheduled, rationed feedings of the burros, where tourists can participate, is a sensible solution. But if the burros disappear from the streets of Oatman, you’re going to see a severe drop-off of visitors. Tourism is about the only thing keeping the tiny town viable these days.


3 thoughts on “Please don’t feed the burros

  1. Dwayne "the canoe guy"

    We were out there last year and there were no burros! A local said that it was the wettest yeaar on record and that the burros had enough forage that they didn’t even bother coming to town yet (this was in April). She also stated that that year she saw stuff blooming in the desert that she hadn’t witnessed in 20 years.

  2. Brian O'Kane

    When I passed through Oatman last October (with the Irish 66ers from Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Dublin), the burros were so hungry that one tried to eat the Irish flag flying from the tail of my rented Harley!

  3. Sal Paradise

    I actually went through that town in 1976 on the way to California (a freak storm hit Flagstaff and south, so we just took the road west). The burros were all over the place then, maybe due to the snow, and were sort of like those kids who used to try and wash your windshelds. I threw a day old bag of fries at them and they left us alone long enough to drive away. I really think that if a town is drawing tourists because of wild burros, like Oatman, then it might want to rethink why its around. And, from what I read, if burros get too fat, they get sick, and then which of the town leaders are gonna pay for the vet?

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