HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — The Department of Land and Natural Resources was able to catch up with the family who was the force behind saving a baby nēnē.
Eventually, the nēnē gosling was reunited with its family after being abducted from Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo.
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The Kahalepauole-Bustamante family on the Big Island spent their day on Thursday, March 23 tracking the abductors and ensuring that the abducted baby nēnē was safe.
“The Kahalepauloe family really stepped up to make things right. They saw something happening that didn’t seem right and called the right people to help save this nēnē family. We stress that nēnē need to be kept wild in order to thrive,” said Raymond McGuire of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
He went on to explain.
“By feeding nēnē at Wailoa or anyplace else, these birds become use to people. Once habituated, the nēnē cannot tell the difference between a person that wants to help or cause harm, so it made it very easy for the nēnē gosling to be taken,” said McGuire.
Lilinoe Kahalepauole-Bustamante tells the story, and this is how it goes.
The Kahalepauole-Bustamantes were at the recreation area with their family. They saw a baby nēnē with its mother. Their two-year-old daughter was enamored with the baby Native Hawaiian goose.
At some point during their visit to the recreation area, a car pulled in. A woman got out of a vehicle and threw a handful of bread out to the nēnē.
While the mother nēnē was eating, the Kahalepauole-Bustamante family suspected that the woman was there to steal the baby nēnē. Their suspicions were confirmed when the car left the area and the baby nēnē was nowhere to be seen.
Feeling a strong sense of responsibility for ensuring the baby nēnē was safe and reunited with its mother, the Kahalepauole-Bustamantes proceeded to follow the car.
“When we first saw the [nēnē] at the park, our toddler was so intrigued by it and so excited to see a baby, a baby bird, basically; and she was so happy. That was probably one of the main reasons why we felt ‘hey, if this little bird brings so much happiness and joy to our little toddler, we definitely need to try and save it and give it back to its mommy’,” said Lilinoe.
Shortly after leaving the recreational area, the car the Kahalepauole-Bustamantes were following was stopped by a traffic light.
Lilinoe’s husband, who had been adamant that they save the baby nēnē, jumped out of his vehicle and tried to get the couple to return the baby to its mother. He saw an onion bag in a bucket in the passenger side of the vehicle and just knew that the baby nēnē was inside.
The couple who had abducted the baby goose denied the accusations and drove off as soon as the light turned green.
So, the Kahalepauole-Bustamantes proceeded to follow them again. However, while in Hilo, they lost track of the vehicle.
After circling a bit, Lilinoe said that they saw the vehicle leaving Hilo and traveling toward Puna.
This is when the family decided to call DLNR to let them know what they suspected.
DLNR contacted the Big Island police department, and the family followed suit.
While following the vehicle, Lilinoe also called 911 to give them the vehicle’s license plate number and vehicle description.
“The dispatcher stayed on the phone with us and would ask and inquire ‘where are you guys now? What are you guys doing? Are you guys ok? Just keep a safe distance’,” said Lilinoe.
Eventually, Puna police officers were able to catch up to the vehicle and pulled the couple over. The police officer asked about the nēnē, but the couple denied that they had one.
This is when Lilinoe’s husband stepped in and told the officer that they did have the baby nēnē in their car. He exclaimed that it is a federal offense to take a nēnē as they are a federally protected and an endangered species.
At this declaration, the officer asked the man from the couple to open up the car so he could inspect it.
When the officer got to the trunk, he saw an onion bag inside a bucket. At first, he didn’t see; but then, he realized that there was something moving inside.
This is the moment the baby nēnē was saved.
The officer took the gosling into custody and returned it to the DLNR. The woman who abducted the baby was cited.
According to Lilinoe, they learned from the DLNR that this baby nēnē was the sole survivor of a brood of three goslings, making its recovery all the more imperative.
DLNR said that the nēnē family is currently in an isolation pen at the Hawaiʻi Island Nēnē Sanctuary. They are being monitored to make sure the ordeal did not interrupt the family’s bond.
“We were concerned because we didn’t know what they intended to do with this nēnē, the baby gosling; but my husband did warn them ahead of time. ‘You not supposed to take them from the park. Give it back. Take it back.’ And, they didn’t,” explained Lilinoe.
Lilinoe explained that everyone knows not to touch, feed or abduct the nēnē, including her own toddler.
DLNR said that “while the Kahalepauole’s helped officers locate [the] car, their three teenaged sons stayed behind in the park and helped a DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) biologist capture the gosling’s parents.”
Lilinoe expressed her disbelief and anger that this couple would take the baby nēnē from the park and from its family.
“But, eventually, the DLNR was able to reunite the baby with the mom and dad. And, so, it ended up being a happy story in the end,” said Lilinoe.
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DLNR said that anyone who witnesses wildlife harassment is encouraged to call their 24-hour DOCARE hotline at 808-643-DLNR or by the DLNR Tip app. They also said that reporting incidents involving protected species, like nēnē, can also be done through DOFAW at 808-974-4221.