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Know the West

Wildish Podcast: The unsexy burro

Episode Five: In Arizona, two incarcerated men rehabilitate wild donkeys for adoption.

 

From High Country News in collaboration with Alan Wartes Media, Wildish is a six-part podcast series that chronicles the complicated world of wild horse management in the Western United States. Wildish is meant to confound you. It does not offer a simple solution to one of the region’s most intractable natural resource conundrums. It is a serial on humans. You’ll hear from the activists who ache for freedom — for the wild horse to be wild — and from those who flinch at the mythology attached to the species. You’ll also get to know some of the well-meaning people inside the Bureau of Land Management, the agency stuck in the middle, faced with balancing the horse as a relic of the Wild West with its undeniable impacts on the modern Western landscape.

 Episode Five

Wildish · The unsexy burro

Wild horses get most of the attention, but donkeys have problems, too. A special kind of mutual rehabilitation is unfolding behind the scenes in the much less sexy world of wild burros. With few resources and very little funding, the Bureau of Land Management has turned to prisons to train wild horses and donkeys for adoption. Wildish host Anna Coburn visits an adoption program inside an Arizona prison, where two incarcerated men train burros with carts and saddles, preparing the animals for adoption. It is hard and dangerous work, with a lot of kicks and bites and even broken legs involved, but the men who do it have come to love the “Donk Life.” They currently work five days a week with the animals. “You don’t even feel like you’re in prison when you come out here,” said Daykota Varner, who is serving his sentence at the Arizona State Prison. “It almost feels like you’re free.”

Anna Coburn is a producer and seasonal interpretive ranger at Curecanti National Recreation Area. She is based in Gunnison, Colorado. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.