HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — Two weeks ago on Thursday, March 23, a suspected ‘goose-napping’ took place at Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo.
A baby nēnē and its mother were hanging out in their park when a woman allegedly snatched the gosling. Witnesses said that she threw a handful of bread out to the nēnē and while the mother was distracted with the food, the woman allegedly grabbed the baby and ran.
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Fortunately for the nēnē family, a local family embarked on a journey to save the baby nēnē.
Lilinoe and Lester Kahalepauole-Bustamonte and their three children witnessed the alleged abduction.
Lester was so disturbed by the audacity of someone to steal a baby nēnē from its mother that he and his family spent hours ensuring its safe return.
Their two teenaged sons helped the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) biologist capture the remaining family members to ensure they were reunited.
Meanwhile Lilinoe and Lester along with their toddler who’d fallen in love with the nēnē gosling embarked on a mission to follow the car of the people who had allegedly taken the baby.
They tracked the car and called DLNR and 911 and continued to follow to provide up to date location information to DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) and the Hawai‘i Police Department.
When police finally caught up to the alleged goose-napping couple, they denied any involvement.
The officer, at the urging of Lester, looked in their trunk and found the baby nēnē inside an onion bag inside a bucket.
The nēnē gosling was recovered and reunited with its parents at the Hilo Nēnē Sanctuary on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea.
DLNR said that the nēnē family spent 14 days in isolation.
“It happens in the wild, where a baby or mate gets taken; and sometimes, they go through a mourning process. But, other times they’re thinking about their own survival. Putting them back together re-establishes the familial bond,” explained DOFAW Wildlife Biologist Raymond McGuire.
Exactly two weeks later on Thursday, April 6, the hero family that saved the nēnē gosling was honored with opening the gate to the nēnē family’s holding pen.
“It took a few minutes for the birds to discover their opening to the sanctuary. Lilinoe said she was delighted and honored to participate in the release,” said DLNR.
The hero family was also honored with a DLNR & YOU Citizen Conservationist Award.
“It’s presented to those community members who go above and beyond to help DLNR and our mission to protect and conserve all of Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources,” said DLNR First Chair Laura Kaakua.
She went on to explain further.
“In this instance, you folks, the Kahalepauole-Bustamonte ‘Ohana, did go above and beyond for your community, for our community of nēnē, for all of our native species. All of you and your entire family played a critical role and thank goodness there was that partnership between community and our Division of Forestry and Wildlife and our very dedicated DOCARE officers, as well as the county,” said Kaakua.
The family was surprised by the award presentation. Lilinoe provided a comment.
“It was just a privilege. Honestly, it was just right timing and right place for us to be there. We’re grateful for the opportunity, even though we didn’t know we had that at hand. We’re grateful that you guys allowed us to come full circle and see our baby nēnē be released,” said Lilinoe.
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The family also had the wonder of watching under a snowcapped Mauna Kea the nēnē family waddle off to explore their new sanctuary home.