The call came in early Saturday evening about a very strange sight. Someone had spotted a wild donkey hoofing it into the hills of Riverside County with an arrow lodged in its lower right ear.
The burro got away from rescuers, spooked by a well-meaning onlooker.
Since then, animal control authorities and volunteers from a local donkey rescue have been looking for the injured animal, scouting steep hills and watering holes in Reche Canyon, an unincorporated pocket of Riverside County near San Bernardino County, where herds of wild donkeys roam.
It’s unclear how or why the donkey was shot with an arrow — whether it was accidental or intentional.
On Wednesday, Amber Levonne Koko, cofounder of the animal rescue nonprofit DonkeyLand, found the burro under a tree and lured the animal close to her truck with hay to snack on. The donkey no longer had the arrow, but she recognized the animal’s markings and saw a small patch of blood, where the arrow had penetrated.
Authorities from the Riverside County Department of Animal Services shot the burro with two tranquilizer darts while a wrangler on horseback tried to bring the animal in. But the donkey ran off, disappearing into the hills.
“We could not understand why the burro didn’t go down with the first dart,” said John Welsh, spokesman for the department. The animal may have already been too excited to be taken down, Welsh said.
The burro is likely about 3 to 5 years old and weighs at least 500 pounds, Koko said.
As of Friday morning, almost a week after the initial sighting, the burro was still loose. The arrow could still be partially lodged in the animal’s head or there could be other injuries, Koko said.
She encouraged people to call the Animal Services Department if they see the donkey. Do not to try to approach the animal, Koko said. Besides, she added, much of the search is happening on private land.
“We don’t want anyone to approach him and spook him off. We don’t want anyone to trespass,” Koko said.
The animals serve as a source of wildfire prevention in the area, eating weeds that could serve as fuel for hungry flames. Most human-caused injuries to burros involve cars — and are clear accidents, she said.
Koko said that in the seven years since she cofounded DonkeyLand, she has seen two other arrow injuries — one to a pregnant burro shot in the stomach. Both donkeys survived, she said.
Meanwhile, the current search continues. Welsh said finding the donkey up in the hills won’t be easy and bringing the animal down won’t be a piece of cake either.