Fort Irwin’s Elusive Donkey, Tripod, Finds Home for the Holidays

By Fort Irwin Public Affairs Officer Ken Drylie &
Katie Lange, Defense Media Activity

All military bases have stories and gossip that only the people who live and work there know about. When I was out at remote Fort Irwin, California, recently (our team covered civilians being soldiers for a day), I discovered one of the most talked about pieces of gossip on the post had nothing to do with the people, but an injured burro (aka, donkey).

To preface this story, here’s what I learned about Fort Irwin’s infamous donkey population: Apparently the animals were used on a nearby Spanish trail in the 1800s, and when the trail was no longer used, they were left to their own devices to survive. Unexpectedly, they flourished, and now there are about 6,000 donkeys roaming the post’s grounds.

One of Fort Irwin’s many donkeys and an Abrams tank stare each other down during Decisive Action Rotation 17-04 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb 26, 2017. Army photo by Spc. JD Sacharok

Some consider them entertaining. Others find them to be a nuisance. Either way, the soldiers had lots of good stories to tell about them – especially one burro, affectionately known as Tripod.

The Birth of a Legend

Tripod became Fort Irwin’s most famous burro after spending five months on the lam. Department of Public Works staff biologist Liana Aker and several others had been closely following his story ever since reports surfaced in late spring about a burro with a badly broken leg.

The elusive Tripod at Fort Irwin. As you can see, his back right leg is in bad shape. Photo courtesy of Fort Irwin Public Affairs Officer Ken Drylie

There are rumors abound about exactly how Tripod suffered his injuries. Many of the theories, most often expressed on social media, range from an accidental run-in with a moving vehicle, to heroically defending the local pet population from a pack of enraged coyotes.

Aker believes that his leg was broken during a fight with another burro, most likely over the affections of a “jenny,” or female burro.

Failed Attempts at Capture

DPW, along with Fort Irwin Veterinary Services and the Bureau of Land Management, made several attempts to rescue Tripod over the summer, but the young burro – even with just three good legs – was able to outrun and out-maneuver his would-be capturers.

Several attempts to subdue the resilient animal were also unsuccessful.  Tranquilizer darts either missed their mark or failed to penetrate the tough skin of the desert dweller. The one dart that did deploy correctly seemed to have almost no effect on him.

Tripod became somewhat of a local celebrity, with members of the community photographing and posting his every movement (there was even a Facebook page dedicated to him). But his newfound fame was too much for the usually quiet burro. Finally, in order to avoid the “paparazzi,” he moved to Bicycle Lake in search of more privacy.

Caught in a Landfill

At Bike Lake, Tripod found new friends, a group of jennies with young foals who didn’t judge him for his disabilities. It was with this group around Thanksgiving that he wandered into a landfill, where quick-thinking employees closed the gates on him and called Aker.

When Aker arrived, she and a group of volunteers managed to put up a temporary corral around the elusive critter. After bringing in a horse trailer, they slowly reduced the size of his holding area, until finally he had nowhere to go except into the awaiting trailer.

From there, he was taken to an undisclosed location for a 28-day quarantine and debriefing by Army counterintelligence, most likely about his alleged participation in the Siege of San José del Cabo in 1948 – according to Facebook lore.

After his forced seclusion, Tripod will retire and move to a farm in Colorado.

So while everyone at Fort Irwin may miss the days of searching for Tripod, they can all rest easy knowing he’ll be in a good place where he can live out the rest of his days in relative comfort!

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Fort Irwin’s Elusive Donkey, Tripod, Finds Home for the Holidays