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What is a Kona Nightingale?

The Kona Nightingale, also known as the Hawaiian Donkey, is a charming symbol of Hawaii's past. These feral donkeys, once vital to coffee plantations, now roam free, their brays echoing like nostalgic melodies across the landscape. Their story intertwines with the islands' history, offering a unique glimpse into Hawaii's agricultural heritage. How have these creatures shaped the Kona coast's identity? Continue reading to uncover their tale.
Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill

The Kona nightingale is a breed of free-roaming donkey found in the Kailua-Kona region of the Hawaiian islands. A population of hundreds of former worker donkeys once roamed the area, but today there are only an estimated 33 Kona nightingale donkeys in the area. Efforts have been made to protect the remaining herd by enclosing an area away from a nearby highway to protect both the animals and passing motorists. Some donkeys have also been removed from the area to live in additional land reserved by a donkey committee.

Kona nightingale donkeys get their name from the sound they make. Families in the area often had donkeys for pets and as workers. Oftentimes a family could only afford a single donkey at one time, and the animals would become lonely at night when the families would go to bed. As a result, they would begin making a loud braying sound through the night at other donkeys on neighboring farms. This earned them the name “Kona nightingale,” after the nocturnal songbird.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The area of west Hawaii where the Kona nightingales can be found is quickly expanding in population and tourism. This has resulted in a smaller habitat for the animals and several injuries and deaths of both donkeys and people when the animals cross the nearby highway, primarily during the dawn and dusk hours. Wandering donkeys are often hard to see in the dark, leaving them vulnerable to being hit by passing cars. In one instance a motorcyclist was killed when he hit a Kona nightingale at full speed on the dark highway.

A donkey committee founded by neighboring schools has come together to preserve this unique animal by raising funds for a large enclosure to keep the donkeys from roaming onto the highway. This enclosure will keep the donkeys confined to a particular area, which is several acres in size. Passing motorists will also have the pleasure of looking at the animals as they drive through.

Although donkeys are rarely kept as pets today, the citizens of Kailua-Kona are striving to keep the Kona nightingale in their area as a part of their heritage. They avoided adding the paddock enclosure for as long as possible, but increased traffic caused too great a risk.

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