Location: The Lake Pleasant Herd Management Area (HMA) is 25 miles northwest of Phoenix. It is west of Interstate Highway 17 and north of State Highway 74 and northeast of Lake Pleasant.
Size: This HMA is 103,000 acres in the Sonoran Desert.
Habitat: The area’s rugged mountains, numerous small canyons and open rolling hills cut across the HMA landscape. The vegetation is typical of the upper Sonoran Desert, where paloverde and mixed cactuses are common. Wildlife species sharing the region with the wild burros include desert mule deer, javelina and mountain lions. Other animals found here are small mammals, songbirds, amphibians and reptiles.
History: The wild burros are believed to be descendants of pack burros, which escaped or were released during the 1880s and 1890s. This was an era of extensive mining activity along the Agua Fria River and nearby Bradshaw Mountains. The burros were used as pack animals by prospectors and to carry ore to mill sites.
Population: Wild burros evolved in the harsh deserts of North Africa and are very well adapted to the dry desert environment. Left alone in the remote region with few natural predators, the wild burro population flourished. The burros in this area weigh about 425 pounds and stand about 40 inches high. The majority of the burros living within the HMA boundaries congregate in or around Lake Pleasant Regional Park because of the abundant food and water. The population is about 478 animals.
Management: The lake's fluctuating water levels present a unique management issue. Lake Pleasant, a manmade reservoir, is a storage area for the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water to central and southern Arizona. When water levels are high in the reservoir, ridges allowing access to the lake become islands. Burros caught on the ridges when the water rises to higher elevations can end up trapped. If burros are in danger a rescue operation is initiated by the BLM to relocate the animals. In the past, burros have been airlifted by helicopter, or assisted from an island by a boat. Rescued animals are then relocated to another area within the HMA, or if they require medical attention, they are transported to a corral facility. When fully recovered, these burros are offered to the public through the adoption program.