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Riverside County Doesn't Want You To Feed The Wild Donkeys

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An ordinance that went into effect Thursday prohibits people from feeding the wild burros of Riverside County. The new rule, which was signed in June, will fine violators up to $500 for feeding or harassing the animals.

According to KPCC, while the burros are not native to the Inland Empire (KCET notes that no one is quite sure how or when they arrived), they have been living in the Reche Canyon and Pigeon Pass areas of Moreno Valley, and have come down into neighborhoods where people feed them. But these interactions have also threatened the burros.

"In the wild, burros eat mostly grass or vegetation and fear people and vehicles," Rob Miller, director of the Riverside County Department of Animal Services, noted in an April statement, according to NBC LA. "However, due to easy access to foods not generally found in the wild, burros' behavior has adapted. Instead of normal grazing, the burros now seek out populated areas, roadways and people in order to obtain the treats provided."

As the law states, first time offenders caught feeding or interacting with the wild burros will be fined $100. A second offense is $200, and a third or more is punishable by a fine of $500. A similar law was passed by the federal government in 1971 (Wild Free Roaming Horses & Burros Act), but only applies to federal land.

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"We really want people to understand, you can't keep feeding these burros without recognizing the dangers you're putting them in," John Welsh, spokesman for the department, told KPCC.

It's not just the burros facing danger, however. As NBC notes, a woman was fatally injured in 2005 when she crashed her vehicle into two mules. "We're not just in this for the donkeys," Amber LaVonne, co-founder of Donkeyland, a non-profit group that helps rescue and treat injured or orphaned burros in the area, told KCET. "They're important to us, but we live here too. Making this neighborhood safer for the donkeys also makes it safer for the kids, and calmer for the rest of us who live here."

Following the passage of the ordinance, last month, the group released a statement of support to their Facebook page. "The majority of the residents love the burros, they are known to be the best fire prevention but traffic is one of the greatest dangers to the burros and many are killed…," the statement notes. "All too often people who may mean well, lure the burros to the roadside, near vehicles, pet them, hand feed them, take their pictures and let their children run around the various fields like it is a petting zoo or they drive around like it's a safari. The traumatic pain they endure from being taught to trust a vehicle, usually has a horrific outcome."

"They are cute. They’re beautiful animals," Welsh added to KPCC. But for their safety and yours, just admire them from afar.