These iconic donkeys, known affectionately as "Nightingales," originally worked on coffee plantations before World War 2. Called Nightingales because the farmers could generally only afford one donkey and being herd animals at night the lonely donkeys would call to each other. Longtime kamaaina (locals) have recalled about 30 head of Kona Nightingales were brought from Huehue Ranch in Kona in the early 1970s to Waikoloa Village and released to lend a Western ambiance. As time passed, the donkeys were put more at risk because of increased development, ongoing severe drought conditions and a total lack of herd management. Seeking food and water, the donkeys have wandered onto Waikoloa Road, into people's backyards, as well as foraged on the Waikoloa Village Golf Course and the grass at Waikoloa School.
Their presence has caused more than just slight adjustments. Despite donkey crossing signs, unsuspecting motorists have hit the animals on the road resulting in severe injuries to the animals as well as expensive repairs to vehicles. Some claim the donkeys have destroyed thousands of dollars worth of landscaping and fencing. The herd was recently estimated to be 700-900 animals residing across more than 2,500 acres of private land in South Kohala. If the population were to continue to increase, scarce resources will be depleted and the donkeys could suffer from starvation or dehydration. Because there's no county, state, or federal agency taking an active role in dealing with the donkeys, Dr. Bradey Bergin and the Humane Society of the United States started the Waikoloa Donkey Rescue and Rehoming Project more than a year ago. "It's going to take years to get the herd down to a manageable level," Bergin said, but he's undeterred. "They were put there by people, so I think it's our responsibility to do what we can." Anika Glass, a member of the South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee, said "We want to always have donkeys, we're not trying to eradicate donkeys they're key to our cultural heritage."
It was at this point Mark Meyers of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue was contacted for information, tips, and suggestions to solve problems. Meyers also known as “The Burro man” is the go to man when it comes to donkey issues, was instrumental in the success of this operation. Not to slight the Paniolo's (Hawaiian cowboys) who did a fantastic job, but it was the combined effort and work of all involved that made this operation go so smoothly.
Locally, they began adopting out the donkeys, but only after the animals had been sterilized and matched with the best-suited adopters. More than 250 donkeys have been humanely captured, sterilized, and adopted to date, largely thanks to Bergin with another 50-100 awaiting adoption in Kamuela and Hilo areas. Local rancher Stan Botielho, Malama Waikoloa Nightingales founder Anika Glass and CB Horse Rescue founder Bird McIver contributed greatly to the effort's success in addition to dozens of compassionate residents all deeply concerned about the welfare of these donkeys.
Fast Forward to September 16, 2011. In Waiki'i Ranch 119 donkeys were being readied for relocation to Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Tehachapi, California. Early morning finds a dozen trucks hooked up to large multi-compartment horse trailers. The donkeys will be put six to a crate in the custom 747 so to make it easier they are put six to each trailer compartment. Ready to load the donkeys, word comes that the jet is an hour late arriving and it's felt best to wait an hour so the animals aren't stuck in trailers longer than necessary. All systems are go and the loading begins, slowly at first but soon a rhythm develops and trailer after trailer is filled almost as fast as they are backed in.
Sooner than I believed possible we're done, a dozen trucks and trailers are making the hour long 45 mile drive to the Kailua-Kona airport by way of the “Belt Road” (Highway 19, so called as it circles the island like a belt) with 30 miles of beautiful Hawaiian coast. Arriving at the airport, the drivers line the trailers up with amazing precision, waiting for the crates to arrive. The 20 welded aluminium crates are brought out by tractors two to three crates at a time, six 500-800 pound donkeys is a lot of weight per crate. By the time the crates finally arrive (another delay) the poor donkeys are tired, confused, and scared, most having never been within a quarter mile of a human. The crates are aligned with the trailer, locks are released and the crate is pushed tight against the trailer making animal transfer easy, at least in theory. The crate door is closed and the crate is slid back, locked in place on the trailer and the next crate is moved into position. The last crate door slammed shut and the crate was taken away just in time for a beautiful Hawaiian sunset, the last these donkeys will ever see. When the sun rose Saturday morning these 119 donkeys were treated to their first California sun rise and, while they probably didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it, the first day of the rest of their long lives.
As a side note Guiness Book of Records has no listing for most donkeys on one flight...
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