Help! Last Chance for Wild Burros

German volunteers support the rescue of the last wild burros in California

Wild Burro Refuge in Olancha, CA. Photo: A. HastMarco wraps his arms around Won Kuda and speaks words of encouragement to her. Won Kuda understands the words, the tone, and enjoys the affectionate embrace while the icy wind sweeps down from the snow-covered peaks of the Olancha Mountains over the pasture and the dying Mammoth donkey. Marco and Diana have taken turns around the clock watching over Won Kuda and making her final hours as tolerable as possible. The burro is lying in her final throes and needs much love. Love is what she has grown accustomed to receiving during her life on the pastures of Diana Chontos’ Wild Burro Rescue Sanctuary.

“I am so happy that Marco is here to help me. Without him I’d probably be in despair,” admitted Diana, glancing gratefully over to her volunteer helper from Germany. Twenty-year-old  Marco Sprung from Brandenburg had taken a job as an au-pair in New Jersey and there had stumbled on the nonprofit organization’s website, which announced that it was looking for volunteer helpers. Since Marco still had time before starting medical school in October in Halle an der Saale in Germany, he decided to support Diana with her “burro mission.” Volunteer helpers are always welcome in Olancha, and Diana is tremendously pleased with her new volunteers from Germany. Among others, Alexander who manages her website, and Lieselotte Fadali, one of her most important sponsors, come from Germany.

For many of the burros – Spanish for donkey – the Wild Burro Rescue Sanctuary in Olancha is their only alternative to the slaughterhouse. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), under whose jurisdiction belongs the desert between Olancha and Las Vegas, is actually commissioned with preserving and caring for the four-legged inhabitants in their natural environment. Instead the BLM, as is typical in the Wild West, has joined forces with the cattle ranchers, whose financial contributions have allegedly helped encourage the policy of clearing the land of wild animals for the sake of the cattle.

The BLM brutally round up the wild burros and mustangs and bring the survivors into long-term captivity, and kill others directly on site. In December 2009 at the Calico Roundup in Nevada 160 mustangs died at the hands of BLM’s contracted hunters, who ruthlessly hunt the animals from helicopters.

If they are fortunate, the burros end up with Diana Chontos in Olancha. More than 200 burros and several mustangs have found a new, safe home with Diana. Olancha, the animal sanctuary, lies in the middle of nowhere. Diana’s house, consisting of one large room, has neither electricity nor running water. Water comes from a well, and a toilet suitable for tourists is currently under construction so that visitors do not have to forego all the blessings of civilization. Diana does not mind. Her life centers around the burros and their rescue. For them she even risked her marriage. Even the amenities of daily life are irrelevant to her. And the donations that slowly trickle in barely cover the living expenses for the burros. For hay alone Diana must bring in 5,000 dollars a month.

To maintain the Burro Rescue and to save the last wild burros in the American West, Diana continues to need in the future generous donations and volunteer helpers. Like Marco Sprung from Brandenburg.

Text and photo by A. Hast

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