Happy ending to saga of a nēnē gosling snatched in onion bag from Hilo state park

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A nēnē gosling snatched by a woman two weeks ago, and her parents, were released into the Hilo Nēnē Sanctuary on April 6, 2023. (Screenshot Department of Land and Natural Resources)

A nēnē gosling that was snatched from its parents two weeks ago by a woman at Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo now has a new home.

On Thursday, the baby nēnē and its parents were released into the Hilo Nēnē Sanctuary on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea. 

Opening the door to their freedom was Lilinoe Kahalepauole-Bustamonte, who along with her family helped save the nēnē gossling. Her toddler daughter Piha waved as they waddled out of the protective cage.


Kahalepauole-Bustamonte, her husband Lester, their three teenagers and toddler had watched as the federally and state protected bird was stolen from the park, put into an onion bag, and spirited away in a car.

A nēnē gossling was snatched by a woman at Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo and put in an onion bag in March 2023. (Department of Land and Natural Resources)

While the teens helped a state Division of Forestry and Wildlife biologist capture one of the gossling’s parents, the teens’ parents followed the woman and provided continuous location updates to officers from the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and from the Hawai‘i Police Department. 

Ultimately the bird-napper was apprehended, and the gosling was reunited with its parents and taken to the sanctuary.


Wildlife biologist Raymond McGuire and his sanctuary team have kept the trio in isolation for the past 14 days, explaining: “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.” 

Thursday morning, Lilinoe, with Piha in her arms, was invited to open 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 says she was delighted and honored to participate in the release. 

The family was then surprised with a DLNR & YOU Citizen Conservationist Award.


“It’s presented to those community members who go above and beyond to help the [Department of Land and Natural Resources] and our mission to protect and conserve all of Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources,” said First Chair Laura Kaakua. “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.”

Lilinoe Kahalepauole-Bustamonte said: “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.” 

Under snowcapped Mauna Kea, the group watched the family waddle off to explore their new sanctuary home. 

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