Hawaii County

West Hawaii donkeys, also known as "Kona nightingales," live wild in the dry lands north of Kailua-Kona. Soon they will be confined to a multiacre paddock to keep them from getting killed on Queen Kaahumanu Highway.

Wandering Big Isle
donkeys will be
put out to pasture

By Rod Thompson

KAILUA-KONA >> The end of the open range is coming for North Kona's wild donkey population. Civilization, in the form of a highway full of cars, has become too big a menace.

With the growth of West Hawaii and an increase in traffic, many donkeys are being killed on Queen Kaahumanu Highway north of Kailua-Kona. People are also being injured and sometimes killed, most recently a motorcyclist who died when he hit a donkey in the dark about 8 p.m. on Sept. 17.

The Donkey Committee, composed of government and private agencies, landowner Kamehameha Schools and several lessees, has decided to create a fenced paddock on the mauka side of the highway at Kaupulehu, said Roger Harris, manager of 7,000 acres leased from Kamehameha Schools by PIA Kona LP.


The size of the paddock is undecided, but it will be at least 10 acres and will be near the highway so motorists can stop and look at the donkeys, Harris said.

Donkeys have roamed wild in the land division of Kaupulehu, 15 miles north of Kailua-Kona, since the end of World War II when they were released from their duties as coffee farm crop carriers, said Fred Duerr, committee chairman and general manager of the Kona Village Resort.

Of hundreds of donkeys that once lived throughout Kona, only 33 now live in Kaupulehu, Duerr said.

Some portion of those will be kept in the paddock, while the remainder will be removed to other Kamehameha Schools land in South Kona, Harris said. The Donkey Committee hopes to have the paddock ready by March.

"It's sort of a sad day," Harris said, but leaving them to cross the highway, usually at dawn or dusk when lighting is bad, is too dangerous.

Duerr has worked at the Kona Village since the 1960s. He remembered stories from prewar Kona, when every family had a donkey, which was a family pet as well as a beast of burden.

Since a family could usually afford only one animal, the donkeys were lonely and would bray at night to donkeys at other farms scattered across the hillsides, Duerr said. The nighttime braying earned them the name "Kona nightingales."

After World War II, war surplus jeeps became so common that families stopped keeping donkeys, he said.

Duerr warned state officials about potential donkey problems before Kaahumanu Highway opened in the 1970s, but the danger was low because cars were few.

As cars increased, officials put cinders in the bottom of large culverts under the highway and food inside the culverts to entice donkeys into and through them. The donkeys ate the food but returned to the open air to cross the highway.

Kona Village, the original development in the dry Kaupulehu lands, has supplied water for the donkey for years, Duerr said. Since Hualalai Development Co. started work on nine additional holes at its golf course in the area, the potential for problems has increased, Harris said.

The Donkey Committee asked the state to put a fence along the highway, but the state said that could create legal problems. So the donkeys will be limited to the new paddock.

"We love them. We like them to roam," Duerr said. But those days are over.

County of Hawaii

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