• Share to Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Email
    • Print

Waikoloa Nightingales: The Plight of the Iconic Donkeys of West Hawaii

Local residents are concerned about the safety and future of Hawaii's wild equine herds, but you can help

  • The Waikoloa Donkey Rescue and Rehoming Project is giving wild donkeys like this a better future. Keith Dane/The HSUS

  • In 2010, a herd of wild donkeys estimated at between 400-600 lived on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Dr. Brady Bergin/The HSUS

  • A coalition of advocates and specialists are finding ways to humanely manage the population of wild donkeys in Hawaii. Dr. Brady Bergin/The HSUS

  • HSUS Equine Protection Director Keith Dane and Hawaii State Director Inga Gibson. The HSUS

December 2015: Can you provide some hooves a home for the holidays? Approximately 50 of Waikoloa’s iconic donkeys are still in need of homes. Please email us or call 808-922-9910 for more information. There are no adoption fees, but anyone who is interested should learn what's involved in providing lifetime care for a donkey. See The Donkey Sanctuary or Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue for more information. If you would like to adopt a donkey, please complete the pre-adoption application and email it. Donations for the continued care of the herd are always needed and appreciated.

This story has been updated since it originally appeared on September 1, 2010.

by Inga Gibson

The lives of hundreds wild donkeys living in Waikoloa, on Hawaii's Big Island, have become safer and healthier since since the Waikoloa Donkey Rescue and Rehoming Project began 2010.

We've managed to find new homes for many members of the herd, but we won't stop working until we've helped all of them.

Who is looking after the donkeys?

HSUS Equine Protection Director Keith Dane and Hawaii State Director Inga Gibson continue to coordinate efforts with lead local equine veterinarian Dr. Brady Bergin, Malama Waikoloa Nightingales founder Anika Glass, the West Hawaii and Hawaii Island Humane Societies, numerous local and state policy makers, and other community members concerned about the future welfare of these animals.

Thanks to the tremendous efforts of Dr. Bergin and dozens of compassionate residents, more than 300 donkeys have been humanely captured, sterilized, and adopted to date.

 You can join the project

» 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 to discuss the process.

» Volunteer: If you would like to volunteer, contact Hawaii State Director Inga Gibson at igibson@humanesociety.org.

» Adopt: If you would like to adopt a donkey, please complete the pre-adoption application. Learn what's involved in caring for a donkey from The Donkey Sanctuary or Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue


Traveling the road between Kona and Waikoloa, you may spot a donkey crossing sign from the days when the Big Island’s donkey herd once resided in Kona, Hawaii.

Today, you’ll have to look a bit harder and a bit further west and toward the mountains (mauka) to spot these historic equines, who serve as a living reminder of the role they and other equines played in early Hawaii agriculture: working on the coffee plantations across the Big Island.

Unfortunately, years without any herd management, coupled with increased development and severe drought conditions in the area, put these beautiful and sentient creatures at risk. It became clear that if the population continued to increase, scarce resources would quickly be depleted, and the donkeys could suffer from starvation or dehydration.

You can help the donkeys: donate land, volunteer, or even adopt one

Donkeys may cross busy highways in search of water or be attracted to foliage and grasses found in residential areas. Furthermore, with dwindling access to sustenance, donkeys may push down fencing and enter roadways—posing a threat to drivers and to the donkeys themselves.

 Update: Donkey clinic and airlift to California sanctuaries

Thanks to the tremendous support of Eagle Eye Sanctuary in Northern California, a major contributor to the Waikoloa donkey project, The HSUS will be flying up to 120 of the estimated remaining 400 donkeys to California in mid-September. Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue will accompany the donkeys on their flight from Kona to Los Angeles and handle transport to their sanctuary in Tehachapi, California.

In preparation for the September flight, later this month The HSUS and Dr. Bergin will be holding a health clinic to perform medical evaluations, including microchipping for identification and Coggin’s testing, on each donkey.

While we all prefer the donkeys stay in Hawaii, the entire population cannot be rehomed locally without appropriate land for sanctuary. We are thankful that these 100 donkeys will live out the remainder of their lives in sanctuaries and adoptive homes on the mainland, protected from any future harm.

Native sanctuary

With a goal of enabling some of the donkeys to stay in Hawaii, we continue to support efforts to develop a local sanctuary to provide a safe, permanent home for this iconic herd. Please contact our Wildlife Land Trust below if you are interested in donating land or supporting efforts to develop a local sanctuary.

In addition to ongoing sterilization clinics, PZP immunocontraception, which has been used in wild horse herds on the mainland for over 20 years, is still being considered as a humane and effective reproductive management method for the herd.

Learn more about the plight of the donkeys from a KITV news report: Watch parts one and two of the video, and read the story.


Inga Gibson is Hawaii State Director for The HSUS

  • Sign Up

    Get news and updates about our work

  • Take Action

In Your State

Find out more about The HSUS's efforts in your state. Read More

Button reading donate now