Wild donkeys take flight from Hawaii Island to LAX

Jade Eckardt

HAWAII ISLAND—Donkeys took to the air last week when 119 wild donkeys dubbed “nightingales” due to the echoing of their nighttime brays, flew from Hawaii Island to California via cargo plane for a new start after decades in the wild ending in starvation and trespassing. After the Humane Society United States (HSUS) was alerted by a Hawaii Island rancher and veterinarian who were helping the donkeys, the HSUS arranged for the flight to Los Angeles where they were brought to ranch sanctuaries and will eventually be adopted by individuals.

After arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on September 16 after a flight accompanied by Mark and Amy Meyers, managers of the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (PVDR), Mark Meyers said, “They are all recuperating fine. We’re going to give them a few weeks to get used to the California weather.” The wild donkeys were not sedated for the flight.

Upon arrival the donkeys were met with a team driving trucks with trailers who took them on the three hour drive to the sanctuary in mountains of Tehachapi, California. After spending time at PVDR adapting to their new life, the adoption process will begin near the end of October. Six of the donkeys will move to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas while approximately 12 will move to the Eagle Eye Sanctuary Foundation (EESF) in Northern California.

“I definitely wanted to save these donkeys,” says Ugo Sap, a San Francisco architect and owner of EESF who who funded the flight and is looking forward to the dozen that will be joining his herd. He added, “I think they are super sweet and super intelligent.”

Descendants of worker donkeys brought from Africa and used on the island’s early coffee plantations where they hauled up to 500 pounds of coffee a piece until being replaced by machinery when they were set loose, the long eared donkeys had expanded to a heard of approximately 400 to 500. The animals were roaming free on 10,000 acres of private land near Waikoloa where the occasional road side donkey wasn’t an uncommon sight, resulting in a donkey crossing sign along the highway.

Living on land normally so dry it’s seen forest fires, the donkeys competed with cattle for food and water, and sometimes wandered onto resident’s property looking for food. This is where rancher Stan Boteilho got involved. After finding the wild donkeys eating the food he put out for his cattle, Boteilho fed them, humanely captured them, and brought them to a vet for neutering. “I felt sorry for them. I had a couple donkeys as pets myself when I was a kid,” he said.

“The donkeys were starving. There were too many of them. Somebody told me I could shoot them since they were on my lease, but I didn’t feel that was the right way to go,” he recalled.

“The donkeys were starving. There were too many of them. Somebody told me I could shoot them since they were on my lease, but I didn’t feel that was the right way to go,” he recalled.

In 2010 the rancher contacted Dr. Brady Bergin, a local veterinarian who contacted Inga Gibson, the Hawaii state director of the HSUS and soon the Waikoloa Donkey Rescue and Rehoming project was born. As of today, approximately 200 donkeys have been adopted out island wide. New owners say the donkeys are completely personable, even more so than dogs.

Of the work put into capturing and helping the donkeys, Boteilho says: “It’s a lot of work, but I feel good about it. My friends help me, my father-in-law helps me, so that makes it interesting. I like helping the animals, so it’s all a plus. And the way it’s turning out, it couldn’t be better for the donkeys.”

According to the HSUS, the remaining Hawaii Island herd is estimated to be around 200 to 300. Helping with the donkeys’ futures is the Oahu horse and donkey rescue organization Equine 808 who will help with adoptions. The non-profit organization worked with Young Brothers shipping to get some of the donkeys to Oahu at the beginning of June, and while several were adopted out around the island, Equine 808 obtained one donkey. They named it Marty after the zebra in the movie Madagascar and refer to him as an “ambassador to the mission.” The organization is committed to doing whatever they can to find the donkeys “forever loving homes.” They note that while it’s preferable for the remaining wild donkeys to stay in Hawaii, they realize a new home for the entire herd probably can’t be found locally without appropriate land being designated for a sanctuary.

To help Hawaii Island’s wild donkeys:

- Provide sanctuary: If you’re a property owner who’s interested in donating land to provide sanctuary for the animals, contact The HSUS’s Wildlife Land Trust at www.wlt.org to discuss the process.

- Volunteer: If you would like to volunteer, contact Hawaii State Director Inga Gibson at [email protected]

- Adopt: If you would like to adopt a donkey, please complete the pre-adoption application at www.humanesociety.org.