Band on the run

Band on the run 1

By Robin EH. Bagley

We’ve all seen that iconic plains animal, the American Bison, in Custer State Park. They loaf, wallow, saunter, and thunder around the park like they own the joint. Perhaps they do; I don’t want to argue with a buffalo. Yes, I’m using the vernacular; if you’re from South Dakota, they’re buffalo. Anyway, my point is that the buffalo really aren’t the most interesting animals in the park. If you’re looking for entertainment, grab some apples or carrots and drive the Wildlife Loop Road. You’re looking for the park’s famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) Begging Burros, or as I like to call them, the Band on the Run.

What’s a herd of wild burros doing in Custer State Park? Are they burros or donkeys? And are they really wild? Excellent questions. Let’s start at the beginning.

Donkeys have been domesticated for thousands of years; the first records of domesticated donkeys date back to approximately 4000 BCE in Lower Egypt. Domesticated donkeys’ wild ancestors were the wild asses, Equus africanus asinus. They made their way from Africa to other parts of the world; around 2000 BCE they were brought to Europe. The first donkeys in the Western Hemisphere arrived in 1495, on a supply ship bound for Christopher Columbus’s expedition. So, to be clear, the donkeys gamboling about in Custer State Park are not wild in the same sense that the buffalo are. Donkeys are a long-domesticated animal, which makes them much easier to approach. For the record, NEVER ever approach a buffalo. Ever.

My long-burning question was really whether this herd was burros or donkeys. Custer State Park naturalist Julie Brazell cleared that up by explaining that burros and donkeys are the same species, Equus asinus. So it’s correct to call them either name; they won’t answer anyway unless you have snacks.

Burros were released in the park in the mid-to-late 1920’s; they had been used to haul visitors to the top of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). When that activity stopped, the burros were turned loose in the park where they continue to flourish. I had heard, but have not been able to confirm, that the animals were also used to haul supplies for the employees at the fire watchtower on the peak. Anyone who has climbed that last quarter mile to the top can appreciate how handy a pack animal would be for hauling a week’s worth of groceries!

Today this fun bunch can be spotted in Custer State Park, usually along the Wildlife Loop Road. They have been known to stop traffic as they meander down the middle of the road trolling for snacks. If you’re eating something you’d rather keep for yourself, don’t step out of your vehicle with it – they have been known to snatch food from indignant spectators. If you plan to feed them, please bring appropriate food such as apples or carrots and avoid junk food. One day when I was out shooting photos, a family stopped alongside me and the boys had no snacks. One brother was game, grabbed a couple of carrots I was proffering, and began feeding his new friends. The younger brother was a bit apprehensive of the crazy carrot lady and told me very formally, “I’m not a rabbit.” But when he tried feeding gummy bears to a burro, his father intervened and they happily took a couple of carrots to feed her instead.

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Also, they are large animals with hooves so mind your feet and avoid standing behind them in case they kick. Their ancestors hauled visitors, but this bunch runs free and are not trained for riding, so don’t go playing cowboy. Be safe and enjoy this entertaining bunch in Custer State Park. All important points to remember when watching and interacting with the band on the run!

Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre state park in South Dakota’s Black Hills. It’s located five miles east of Custer, SD on Highway 16A or about 40 miles south of Rapid City, SD via Highways 385 and 16. The park is great stop on your way to Yellowstone National Park. For more information on the park, visit https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/.

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The piece Band on the run was originally published by the author on the Black Hills Travel Blog. It has been updated by the author.

 

Multiple Contributor

Robin EH. Bagley is a freelance writer and social media manager who spent most of her years in South Dakota, from the prairies to the granite spires near Custer. She loves to camp, hike, and paddle but is a reluctant mountain biker. She has recently relocated to Sheridan, WY near the Bighorn Mountains and is getting accustomed to hiking in bear and moose country as opposed to buffalo country. If you meet her on the trail, you can hit her up for a granola bar or Band-Aid.

35 thoughts on “Band on the run

    • July 7, 2017 at 8:24 pm
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      Thanks so much!

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  • July 7, 2017 at 12:33 pm
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    These donkey’s are just the cutest <3 My two would love this as they're donkey mad. We always spend about 2 hours with them when we visit the little farm in our village 🙂

    Louise x

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    • July 7, 2017 at 8:25 pm
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      That sounds fun!

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  • July 7, 2017 at 12:11 pm
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    Oh this is so cool. I never heard of Burros before but either way they are adorable and my daughter would have loved to have seen them!

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  • July 6, 2017 at 5:38 pm
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    How ADORABLE are those donkeys! I hope you had an amazing time.

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  • July 6, 2017 at 4:14 pm
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    OMG! What a fun experience especially for the kids. It’s so nice to expose them more to animals and have them interact too. I’m glad that no burros were fed gummy bears during the time that you were there.

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    • July 7, 2017 at 2:54 am
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      Great for kids & adults too. I probably enjoy them as much as anyone. 🙂 They do get fed some crazy stuff though, unfortunately, like junk food.

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  • July 6, 2017 at 2:52 am
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    This looks like a fun little stop! Never thought about visiting donkeys.

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    • July 7, 2017 at 2:53 am
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      The donkeys are part of the whole Custer State Park experience, which is just a fabulous place. There’s a lot of hiking & some nice little lakes for paddling, plus campgrounds as well. But the begging burros are a big hit with everyone.

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  • July 5, 2017 at 9:51 pm
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    Just learned something new today. Fun post makes me want to go with a bag of carrots:)

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  • July 5, 2017 at 2:09 pm
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    Awww, they are so cute roaming around in the wild. It’s so cool that you can feed them carrots and be able to pet them as well.

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    • July 6, 2017 at 2:38 am
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      Yes it’s a lot of fun. And they’ll eat about anything; unfortunately I’ve seen people feeding them chips/Doritos, donuts, etc. One day I was out in the park & forgot treats, but I had an organic (and very tasty) granola bar, so I sacrificed it. The white mare loved it! And when it was gone, I was dead to her. lol

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    • July 7, 2017 at 2:51 am
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      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  • July 4, 2017 at 11:57 pm
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    wow, such trips are so educating & asking kids to love animals right away.. It seemed you all had a great fun!

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  • July 4, 2017 at 9:18 pm
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    Oh my children would love to go here! They are obsessed with donkeys although I think they would be chasing them all over the show!

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    • July 7, 2017 at 2:51 am
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      Your kids would love it! Kids really enjoy the burros because they can pet them, unlike the other wildlife. And it’s fun to feed them. Even for big kids! 🙂

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  • July 4, 2017 at 9:11 pm
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    No way!!! How cool is that!! I would have never even thought of Donkeys as being wild!

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  • July 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm
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    All those captures are so cute and sweet! Love all pictures! Aww… It looks so interesting, like an amazing adventure! Thanks for sharing it with us!

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    • July 5, 2017 at 2:21 pm
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      Thanks Marzena! They are so cute & photogenic; they’re kind of hams actually – seem to like the camera! 🙂

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  • July 4, 2017 at 8:11 pm
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    I am delighted to know burros and donkey’s names are interchangeable! The name burro seems so much cuter and friendlier than donkey. I, having been there, just enjoy the interaction with them. Some are demanding, some shy, some grumpy, some a bit over zealous in their begging, but fun for all.

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    • July 5, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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      Yes, over zealous can be understatement! They will snatch food right out of your hands if you’re not paying attention lol

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  • July 4, 2017 at 7:11 pm
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    I’ve never heard of them being called burros before, but I like it! Such lovely animals, many memories of donkey rides on the beach as a child.

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    • July 5, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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      Donkey rides on the beach sounds fun!

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  • July 4, 2017 at 10:00 am
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    Aww such a lovely post, and never really took to donkeys. My little daughters would love to go and see these cute Donkeys. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • July 4, 2017 at 4:43 pm
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      They are so much for kids. I took my cousin’s boys out to see them last year & think it was the highlight of their visit.

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  • July 4, 2017 at 8:41 am
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    This was very interesting and educational to me! The pictures are very cute- makes me want to own one so I can cuddle them all the time!

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  • July 4, 2017 at 5:41 am
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    Ummm those are probably the cutest things I’ve seen today. I love this so much

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    • July 4, 2017 at 4:41 pm
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      They are just ridiculously cute, and charming!

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  • July 4, 2017 at 2:27 am
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    Wow very interesting blog post! Thanks for sharing and educating 🙂

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  • July 3, 2017 at 9:41 pm
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    I grew up next to a farm so I always saw donkeys but I never appreciated how much they have been ingrained as part of our international history. I love the look of burros too aren’t they adorable x

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    • July 9, 2017 at 9:05 pm
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      I know what you mean – they were the first domesticated animal. I would have guessed sheep or goats.

      Reply

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