Begging burros and bison in Custer State Park

It’s finally time to wrap up our focus on South Dakota for the month of August. While Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument and the bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park were all interesting, perhaps the quirkiest thing I discovered in South Dakota was the collection of “begging burros” and bison in Custer State Park, a wildlife reserve in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The burros are wild donkeys that live in a small section of Custer State Park along the road. They are called “begging burros” because they’ve become famous for approaching vehicles and expecting food. Many visitors bring crackers to feed them. The issue of feeding wild animals usually gives me mixed feelings, but when I discovered that this practice isn’t frowned upon by park officials, I purchased a box of crackers and headed off to find the burros.

begging burros custer state park

It wasn’t hard to find them! We saw about four or five, and they were very aggressive. They go right to your door, stick their face inside your window, and eat crackers out of your hand. They will sometimes block traffic if their demands aren’t being sufficiently met. Now that’s gangsta!

begging burros

After a few minutes of this, it was getting old, and more vehicles had arrived eager to feed the animals, so we moved on. For bison sightings, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center is the place to be.

Around 1,500 bison live in Custer State Park, and hundreds of them are gathered near the visitor center, causing frequent traffic jams and giving tourists an up-close look at them. Just don’t get too close!

bison norbeck visitor center

One other Custer State Park / Black Hills wildlife tip – we heard that there are also mountain goats in the area. But when we asked the ranger about them, he said their population was stricken with a serious disease that was killing off many of them. This was back in 2010 – hopefully they’ve become healthy again since then.


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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

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