Wild horses and donkeys dig wells in the desert, providing water for wildlife
These unexpected “ecosystem engineers” provide hydration for dozens of animal species, from badgers to elf owls to toads.
Humans have a long history of digging wells, but we're not the only species to tap the earth for water: New research reveals wild horses and donkeys, also known as burros, can as well.
As described in a paper published April 29 in the journal Science, the animals use their hooves to dig more than six feet deep to reach groundwater for themselves, in turn creating oases that serve as a boon to wildlife—American badgers, black bears, and an array of birds, including some declining species such as elf owls.
Horses and burros, introduced into the wild over the centuries, have taken up residence in scattered populations throughout much of the American West. The wells they dig transform into “hotbeds