A pet donkey disappeared in California five years ago. He’s been spotted living with a herd of wild elk

When Diesel the donkey ran away on a hike near his home outside Sacramento, California, five years ago, his owners assumed the worst.

“He’s not aggressive, he’s a lover,” Terrie Drewry told CNN affiliate KOVR in 2019, days after Diesel’s great escape. “But right now, he’s scared.”

Years passed without a sign of life from Diesel — until earlier this year, when a hunter spotted and filmed a herd of at least a dozen elk in the northern California wilderness. Among them, strangely, was a wild burro.

Drewry is positive that the donkey in the hunter’s video is her Diesel.

“Finally we saw him,” Drewry told KOVR this month after the Instagram video began making headlines. “Finally, we know he’s good. He’s living his best life. He’s happy. He’s healthy, and it was just a relief.”

The Drewry family adopted Diesel from the Bureau of Land Management, and he lived on their ranch in peace for the first few years of his life alongside chickens, a llama and a miniature donkey.

Diesel, right, as seen in 2018 -- the year before he got spooked and ran off. - Courtesy Terrie and Dave Drewry
Diesel, right, as seen in 2018 -- the year before he got spooked and ran off. - Courtesy Terrie and Dave Drewry

But on a fateful hike in April 2019, Diesel noticed something that spooked him and took off running, dragging Drewry’s husband Dave through the bushes behind him, she told KOVR at the time. For weeks they searched for Diesel in the Cache Creek Wilderness, a rugged area northwest of Sacramento made up of nearly 30,000 acres. They thought they spotted him on a trail camera and once found some tracks that may have matched his hooves, but they never found him.

Enter Max Fennell, a professional triathlete who occasionally hunts in wild California with a bow and arrow. On a hunting trip in March, Fennell stumbled upon the elk herd — and was stunned to see a donkey among them.

In a video shot by Fennell, which Drewry said was taken mere miles from where Diesel bolted in 2019, the herd is seen moving in unison. When Fennell spots them, they stop to stare at him.

The animals don’t move again until the donkey apparently gives the all-clear: After sizing up a disbelieving Fennell, the burro turns its head and trots off. The elk quickly follow.

“Probably one of my wildest hunting trips to date,” Fennell wrote in the caption of the video on Instagram. “I can’t get over seeing it and I’m amazed that the donkey looks happy and healthy!”

In addition to clearing land, pulling wagons and providing general cuteness, donkeys can protect livestock on farms. The pack animals fiercely defend their flocks by braying, kicking wildly and charging, teeth bared, at potential predators.

Diesel and Dave Drewry - Courtesy Terrie and Dave Drewry
Diesel and Dave Drewry - Courtesy Terrie and Dave Drewry

Drewry suspects that, if the donkey Fennell spotted is indeed Diesel, he’s merely doing his donkey duty and protecting his deer friends.

“They learned to get along and be each other’s family,” she told KOVR.

A video shared in September last year also purported to show Diesel with his elk kin. The donkey in that clip looked utterly content, trotting through tall yellow grass in the dappled sunlight.

Though she misses him, Drewry said she won’t try to catch Diesel and bring him back. As grazing animals, donkeys in the wild can usually find plenty to eat. And the donkey in Fennell’s video appears to be thriving in the wilderness, with friends by his side.

“He’s truly a wild burro now,” she said.

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