It can be easy to forget that wild donkeys and horses roam across the world. Amazingly, it seems they do a lot more good for the environment than many of us ever realized. Why? It turns out wild donkeys and horses dig wells.
Creating the wells
It’s no secret that humans have been using wells to collect water for hundreds of years. Now, it turns out we’re not the only species that knows how to tap water from the Earth. That’s right; wild donkeys and horses dig wells – and it has some fantastic benefits. In April 2019, Science released an article that details how various horses and donkeys had been seen digging wells up to six feet deep to try and reach fresh water when they were miles away from the nearest natural source. Apparently, they use their hooves to dig into the ground until they have enough water to thrive. They were spotted doing so at one sight in Mojave Desert, California, and four different sites in the Sonoran desert, Arizona.
Helping the local environment
Scientists wanted to know more about the wild donkeys and horses that dig wells as soon as they spotted the behavior. They quickly set up cameras to watch the area and noticed that a whopping 57 species visited the well to drink. Most of them were different types of birds, including scrub jays, yellow warblers, Cooper’s hawks, elf owls, and red-tailed hawks. They weren’t alone. American badgers and even black bears were seen drinking from the new wells. As if that wasn’t enough, it seems that many of the wells became an oasis for those in the surrounding areas as the likes of river toads, bighorn sheep, and mule deer all moved into the area. The donkeys and horses digging wells improved access to water 14-fold, all through putting their hooves to good work.
It’s not just animals that benefit
It seems the wild donkeys and horses that dig wells have done a lot more than create somewhere to drink; they have changed the local environment now that everything has access to fresh water. Some of the spots quickly started to grow cottonwoods and willows as they germinated in the fresh soil. Not only has this altered the landscape, but it could be the difference needed to bring some of the dwindling and critical desert trees back from the edge. Scientists have called it “ecosystem engineering,” an event that sees animals alter their environment. The most well-known example of this has often come in the form of beavers, who create dams that prevent wildfires, raise the water table, and enhance species diversity. Now, it seems the wild donkeys and horses have found a new way to improve their areas, too.
Who would have thought that wild donkeys and horses dig wells? While access to fresh water is something many of us enjoy, it’s not so easy for those living in the wild. Now, it might be more accessible than ever, thanks to the wildlife taking matters into their own hooves.