Wild Donkeys for Adoption

The Burden of Beasts: A surging wild donkey population on the Big Island has triggered relocation of the animals.

Illustration: Victo Ngai

Do you have a large tract of well-fenced, semiarid, rural land with room for a couple of untamed beasts of burden—or, better yet, a couple of dozen? If so, the Waikoloa Nightingale adoption people want to talk to you.

The Waikoloa Nightingales are wild donkeys roaming the scrubland of the Big Island’s South Kohala district. Their population has swollen to nuisance levels. An extreme drought that’s affected the area doesn’t seem to have reduced their numbers, but it has made the well-watered Waikoloa Village subdivision an irresistible oasis. Nightingales have been breaking fences, drinking from swimming pools, devouring lawns and gardens, causing traffic accidents, fighting neighborhood dogs, pooping everywhere and hee-hawing loudly at night (hence their unlikely nickname). And they treat residents with an attitude, stomping their hooves and baring their teeth at people who try to shoo them away.

With no public or private entity responsible for controlling these feral bad asses, some members of the local equestrian community have taken it upon themselves to capture, sterilize and find good homes for the animals. “We want to do right by the donkeys,” says Brady Bergin, a large-animal veterinarian from Waimea, and a key figure in the donkey adoption effort. “If we don’t deal humanely with the problem now, in five or 10 years eradication may be the only option left.”

Why adopt a wild donkey? They make great lawn mowers. They provide excellent protection for sheep, goats and pigs from marauding dogs (they hate dogs). And they can be downright endearing. “They’re neat creatures,” says Bird McIver, of CB Horse Rescue in Keaau. “They’re very curious and very smart, and once you get them to trust you, you can build upon that trust. You don’t want to coerce them, though. You want them to think it’s their idea.”

Since Bergin and McIver began their Nightingale adoption campaign last fall, they’ve “rehomed” about 200 animals, reducing the wild herd by about a third. Qualified candidates for donkey adoption may live on any island. They’ll need to provide securely fenced pasture, water and a long-term commitment (donkeys can live for 30 years or so). Also, candidates must agree that the Nightingales are not for human consumption. “A lot of people here locally don’t oppose eating donkey meat,” says Bergin. “But that’s not our policy. We’re not in this to send them down the road to the smokehouse.”

Contacts for the donkey adoption program can be found at ainahouanimalhospital.com/donkey.html.