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Burro is a term that is used in the Americas to describe a small donkey. The largest burro populations in the hemisphere are found primarily in Latin America. In Mexico, the donkey population, estimated at three million, is among the largest of any nation in the world. There are also substantial burro populations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Burro is the Spanish language word for donkey. In Spanish, burros may also be called burro mexicano ('Mexican donkey'), burro criollo ('Criollo donkey'), or burro criollo mexicano. In the southwestern United States, "burro" is used as a loan word by English speakers to describe any small donkey used primarily as a pack animal, as well as to describe the feral donkeys that live in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah, Texas and Nevada.
The burro is a small donkey. A study of working donkeys in central Mexico found a weight range of 50–186 kilograms (110–410 lb), with an average weight of 122 kg (270 lb) for males and 112 kg (250 lb) for females. Height at the withers varied from 87–120 cm (34–47 in), with an average of approximately 108 cm (43 in), and girth measurements ranged from 88–152 cm (35–60 in), with an average of about 120 cm (47 in). The average age of the burros in the study was 6.4 years; evaluated by their teeth, they ranged from 1 to 17 years old. They are gray in color.
Mexican burros tend to be smaller than their counterparts in the USA, which are both larger and more robust. To strengthen their bloodstock, in May 2005, the state of Jalisco imported 11 male and female donkeys from Kentucky.
The first donkeys came to the Americas on supply ships with the Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus, and were landed at Hispaniola in 1495. The first to reach North America may have been two animals taken to Mexico by Juan de Zumárraga, the first bishop of Mexico, in 1528, and who, in 1529, requested that more be sent in order to assist the native people, who had been branded and enslaved by the Conquistadores.
The first donkeys to reach what is now the United States may have crossed the Rio Grande river with Juan de Oñate in April 1598. From that time on they spread northward, finding use in missions and mines. Donkeys were documented as present in what today is Arizona in 1679. By the Gold Rush years of the 19th century, the burro was the beast of burden of choice of early prospectors in the western United States. With the end of the placer mining boom, many of them escaped or were abandoned, and a feral population established itself.
Today, feral burros in certain parts of the United States are protected by the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. These animals, considered to be a living legacy, are periodically at risk when severe drought conditions prevail. To reduce herd populations and preserve grazing land, the Bureau of Land Management conducts roundups of burro herds, some of which are then sold at public auctions. In February 2010, the estimated numbers of feral burros were: