Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Asses in the air

This weekend (1st image)
A specially-outfitted cargo plane was chartered by the Humane Society of the United States to bring 120 donkeys 2,500 miles from Waikoloa, Hawaii, to Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Tehachapi, California. The animals were accompanied on the flight by Mark and Amy Meyers, who run the mainland sanctuary, and Big Island veterinarian Dr. Brady Bergin (see video here).

20th c.-21st c. (2nd image)
The rescue of the donkeys was necessary because the once-thriving feral herd is in danger. Their numbers have increased without check and will soon deplete scarce resources, resulting in starvation or dehydration. Increased development (hotels and golf courses) and severe drought conditions has brought the donkeys into conflict with the human inhabitants. On their way down from the mountains to lick salt off the sea rocks, they began eating landscaping, breaking fences, and foraging close to roads, which caused some to be hit by cars. The airlift reduces the number of at-risk Hawaiian donkeys to about 200.

19th-20th c. (3rd image)
The feral donkeys are descendants of those brought to the Hawaiian Islands in the early 1800s by the British to work on the coffee plantations. The strong and sure-footed animals were used to carry bags of beans from mountain farms to coastal ports. "Without burros, the Kona coffee industry would have been limited to the lower altitudes. Only on the higher elevations does the unique combination of soils and temperatures exist that gives Kona coffee its signature flavor." With increased mechanization - and the surplus of jeeps available after World War II - the donkeys were no longer necessary. Farmers released them onto the lava flows, where they thrived and multiplied to their current unsustainable numbers. At night the social animals would grow lonely and bray to one another, "filling the Hawaiian night air with a cacophony of song" and giving them their nickname: the Mālama Waikoloa Nightingales.

"When donkeys show the tenacity that kept them alive in the wild, people call them stubborn. But if you think about it, being 'stubborn' is not always a bad thing," says rescuer Mark, who doesn't like the stereotype of donkeys as dumb and recalcitrant. Word is they make very good pets.

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