Preserving an Icon
Attempts were made over the years to round up the wandering donkeys and relocate them to an area mauka of Waikoloa Village, where fencing could keep them mostly contained. But after a major fire swept through the area in 2006 and drought conditions became severe, the donkeys would break through fences looking for water and food, often wandering into Waikoloa Village proper. Traffic issues and resident complaints multiplied. In early 2009, one concerned Waikoloa resident, Anika Glass, formed a group called Mālama Waikoloa Nightingales to support humane management of Waikoloa donkey herds.
Glass was also instrumental in bringing the Humane Society of the United States on board to help find a solution. “(Glass) was also instrumental in securing the support of my practice, ‘ ina Hou Animal Hospital,” Dr. Bergin writes. “I was able to donate time, services, and energy to help resolve the donkey overpopulation issues.”
By the summer of 2009, in the midst of historic drought, the feral donkey population reached a tipping point. “A rancher named Stan Boteilho was leasing the land at the time,” Dr. Bergin says, “and he approached me about what to do with the 600 or so donkeys that were roaming the land.”
Dr. Bergin toured the area on ATV with Boteilho and saw firsthand the problems facing the herd, including many weak from dehydration and some seriously injured. “The impact of what I had witnessed struck me to the very core of my animal husbandry upbringing,” he writes. “I knew that I could not simply walk away.”
In November 2010, the Waikoloa Donkey Rescue and Re-homing project officially got off the ground. Boteilho put out food and water and humanely trapped the donkeys, then delivered 70 head to Dr. Bergin at ‘ ina Hou Animal Hospital within a two-day period, where Dr. Bergin would neuter the jacks and prepare the donkeys for adoption. This was the beginning of what would become the largest capture and rehoming of donkeys in Hawai`i.
Nowadays, Bergin says, there are fewer than 100 still on Boteilho’s land, with many having been adopted out to local farmers and ranchers — Hōkūkano Ranch in Kealakekua, for example, took a large number of donkeys to return them to the area they were from originally — and some going to rescue groups in California. Two are at the Honolulu Zoo.
“The long-term goal,” says Bergin, “is to keep 25 or so in a controlled herd on Stan’s land to preserve this historic and unique aspect of Hawai`i Island.”